Settle in for a wintry journey in A Long Road on a Short Day, and join Samuel Hallett and his father as they set out to procure a dairy cow for Samuel’s mother on a blustery January day. This illustrated chapter book’s timeless feel makes it a wonderful choice for a cozy read-aloud.
Mindful of the coming snowstorm, Samuel’s father briskly tells his son to “Keep up” and adds, “It’s a long road on a short day.” Mr. Hallett plans to barter for the cow, and begins by offering his “best Barlow knife” to a neighboring farmer. As the day progresses, the weather becomes increasingly cold and snowy, and the titular phrase becomes a delightful refrain shared between father and son.
Unfolding in short chapters devoted to each new person with whom the Halletts strike a trade, A Long Road on a Short Day is exquisitely written by co-authors Gary D. Schmidt, a two-time Newbery Honor author and National Book Award finalist, and Elizabeth Stickney, a pseudonym for Schmidt’s late wife. The duo previously collaborated on Almost Time, a picture book about another father-son relationship. That bond is central here as well, as Samuel’s father involves his son in their mission and expresses pride after Samuel makes a difficult decision. The plot is brisk and perfectly paced, and Samuel’s spirit shines through in moments when he meets animals, including a dog and a new litter of kittens, and wishes that “it wasn’t a brown-eyed cow his mother was wanting.”
Young readers will be fascinated by the trades the Hallets make with their neighbors, which range from a book of poetry, a gold pocket watch and even a pony and cart. The traders themselves, including a wealthy widow and a doctor who has just delivered a baby, leave strong impressions despite the relatively short interactions they have with the Hallets. Eugene Yelchin’s illustrations give the book a firm anchor, warmly conveying the old-fashioned setting, while the text offers a handful of historical references, such as roads being “rolled” for the snow.
A Long Road on a Short Day offers a memorable father-son journey as well as an enthralling glimpse into the past.