A Solstice Tale

I remember reading, when I was very young, folktales about animals speaking at midnight on Christmas Eve. As a little girl, I’d wondered about that – about animals who normally sleep at night, staying awake to speak in English. For the sort of practical and literal-minded child that I was, it didn’t make sense. Certainly, it sounded wonderful for any human who happened to be in the barn at that moment, but who would? Besides, didn’t the animals already speak to each other in their own ways, in their own animal languages? Why speak human? Even when I was as young as five I didn’t think that animals had to speak in English in order to communicate. However, despite my puzzlement and skepticism, the thought of a cozy barnful of talking animals has stayed with me. I don’t remember any of the specific stories from my childhood, and so I’ve written one of my own that takes place on the winter solstice. Since today is the solstice (and a particularly dreary, dark and rainy one at that) I thought I’d share it here. It’s meant to be a picture book, but as I’m not an illustrator, you’ll have to use your imaginations. (The vintage cat drawing below is how I picture TomTom in the story to look.)

Happy Solstice, everyone!

image from “Baby’s Farm Animals”
illustrated by Irma Wilde 1960


The Animals Talk: A Solstice Tale
by Terry Golson

Hannah Rose looks out of the kitchen window into the dark night.

What are the animals doing now Papa? asks Hannah Rose.

They are going to sleep, says Papa. Like you.

But that’s not what Grandma told me, says Hannah Rose. She said that tonight is special. 

Yes, yes, says Papa impatiently. It’s the solstice, the longest night of the year. All the more reason for you to get to bed!

But, Papa, Grandma said that the animals will talk tonight, insists Hannah Rose.

Hmph! Old folk tales, says Papa. Off to bed with you!

Hannah Rose tries to sleep, but the stars shine brightly through her window. They make a sparkly path to the barn. She wraps her quilt around her and puts her feet into her slippers.

Hannah Rose tiptoes to the barn, slides the heavy door open a crack and steps inside.

Hannah Rose is here! says Buffy, the brown hen.

You do talk! says Hannah Rose.

Hah, she never stops! says Daisy, the goat.

Would you be so kind as to give us some corn? asks Ginger, the spotted hen, as she hops down off of the roost.

A tiny voice squeaks, Drop a little extra for me, please.

I would like some hay, says Daisy.

Tomtom the cat rubs against Hannah Rose’s legs. A scratch behind my ears would be nice, he says.

Brownie, the old mare shakes her head. Staying up late has made me hungry. A handful of oats in my bucket will do.

Hannah gets the corn for the chickens, the hay for the goat, scratches the cat and feeds the horse.

Thank you, say the hens.

Thank you, says the mouse.

Delicious, says the goat, talking with her mouth full.

Ah, that feels good, says TomTom.

Thank you, says Brownie. I do like a midnight solstice snack. The horse sighs and lies down in the deep straw of her stall.

Hannah Rose yawns and shivers in the cold.

Warm up next to me, says Brownie.

Hannah Rose curls up next to the horse, pulling her quilt over her. She soon falls fast asleep.

The barn door opens and sunshine startles Hannah Rose awake.

Hannah Rose, says Papa, what are you doing here?

I heard the animals talk! she says, rubbing her eyes.

Really, and what did they say? asks Papa.

They wanted corn and oats and hay. Tomtom wanted a scratch and even the mouse asked for food, says Hannah Rose.

Hmmph, says Papa. That’s what they always want. I don’t need to stay up in the dark and cold to hear that.

But they also said thank-you! says Hannah Rose.

Of course they did, says Papa. They always do. Each animal says thank you in its own way. Tomtom purrs when he’s happy. And haven’t you heard Brownie do that low nicker when she gets her food? Why, all of the animals thank us.

Time to get you some breakfast, says Papa. He picks up Hannah Rose and swings her onto his shoulders.

As she leaves the barn she hears TomTom purring, Brownie nicker and the chickens cluck. She waves good-bye, and as she turns to the house she hears the tiny squeak of a tiny mouse.

You’re welcome, whispers Hannah Rose.


  1. LOL! What a cute story! Yes, they always do say “thank you”, somehow.

    Have you read the latest David Sedaris book? I haven’t read it myself, but it came to mind since all the stories involve animals. I always get a good chuckle from reading Sedaris.

    BTW, I can direct you to two folk tales about talking animals, both collected by Katherine M. Briggs: “The Apple-Tree Man” in “Folktales of England”, and “Tibb’s Cat and the Apple-Tree Man” in “Nine Lives”.

    Looks like a soggy day on HenCam, but the old hens don’t seem to mind! :-)

      • Yesterday I picked up the Sedaris book- “Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk”. It’s kind of a spin on the talking animals type fairy tales, only with more adult themes (language warning!). I’m glad it popped into my head, I’d almost forgotten about it!

        • Oh, forgot to mention, the two folk tales I’d mentioned are about the animals being able to use human speech on Christmas eve, at midnight.

  2. I love your story! When I was a child there was a TV series based on the book “I Remember Mama”. The episode that remains the most clear in my mind was the Christmas Eve when Dagmar, the youngest daughter, who was about the age I was at the time, crept out to the barn to find out if the animals talked at midnight as they did in the legend she had heard. As it happened there were two thieves hiding in the barn, presumably waiting for the family to all go to sleep so they could rob the house. When they realized why Dagmar was there, they began to converse with her as if they were the animals. I don’t remember any of the dialogue but only the outcome, which of course was that they were affected by the innocent trust of the child and did not rob the family. I so wish those wonderful programs had been recorded but I’m not sure they had begun recording that early, late 1940s – early 1950s.

  3. Love the story!! The part where Brownie invites her to warm up beside her is my favorite. It was unexpected. And what lovely animals! So mannerly and polite–and simple, as one would imagine animals to be. This is a wonderful story for children. So many stories now leave out such positive emotions. If we’re to learn anything from animals, it has to be the qualities in a good life.

    Well done!!

  4. Love your little story. I can see it all in my mind. Our animals do thank us for what we do for them. And give us so much undying love. Animals are wonderful!
    Thank you for the story. Well done.

  5. Love this charming story! I am a pre-k teacher and this brings sweet tears to my eyes. I can’t wait until it is available for purchase. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  6. Thank you for a wonderful story that I read with my black cat cuddled at my side. I am getting sandpaper kisses as I type. I particularly liked the goat that said “Thank You” with his mouth full. Wonder who might have inspired that????

  7. Terry: I can’t sleep tonight….my husband lies sleeping next to me, the plows are shoveling the 5″ of snow that has fallen with more to come….the dog is on the bed snoring, the cats are melting happily on the radiators, the rabbit is sleeping soundly in his cage and the chickens are puffed up on the roost bar for warmth. But I’m wide awake so I go to the hen cam and read your story. And now I’m filled with magical thoughts of all of us talking and then I realize we wouldn’t have that much to say to each other except thank you for being you. Thank you for being the cat in my life that warms my lap and rattles and thank you for being the dog who brings bounding joy to my homecoming and makes me leave the house in the bitter cold of winter to appreciate the beauty of a crispy cold night and thank you for being a bunny whose antics make me laugh out loud and thank you for being my chickens who make my breakfast and show me simplicity in life brings blood pressure down. But as your beautifully written tale unfolds you say it all….we already thank each other every day. I’m ready to turn out the light and dream about how lucky I am with all of the love in my life. Good Night!