Friday, December 29, 2006

POETRY FRIDAY: A Gift of Poetry

Written by John Updike
Illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman
Published by Holiday House (1999)

One of my grandnephews was so excited on Christmas Eve when he handed me the present he said he had picked out especially for me at my favorite children’s bookshop. When I visited the shop a few days later, the owner—who is a friend—told me how my grandnephew had spent time talking to her and getting her advice about the kinds of books I liked best. He also explained to her how he had to keep within his budget.

George looked so proud of himself Sunday night when I unwrapped the paperback copy of John Updike’s A CHILD’S CALENDAR. His mother, my niece, told me the owner of the bookshop said I could return the book if I already owned a copy. Well…I did have two hardcover copies—one of them signed by the author. I didn’t care. My new paperback copy of A CHILD’S CALENDAR holds a special place in my heart. It is a gift of poetry from someone who is dear to me. My second hardcover copy holds a special place in my heart, too. It was given to me several years ago by one of my second grade students—a young girl who had come to love poetry over the course of the school year.

I own duplicates of dozens of children’s poetry books. Some I have bought. Some of them were gifts from family, friends, and students who appreciated my love of poetry. I was actually happy to receive a second copy of favorite poetry books I already owned. That meant I could keep one copy of each of them at home where they wouldn’t get battered and worn from use in my classroom.

Now I can look at all the books of poetry I have received from others and remember their givers. I think of sweet little blond-haired Julie, the daughter of our school’s head custodian. I can picture Caroline—the tall, broad-shouldered, tough-as-nails-on-the-outside girl who was really tender and sensitive on the inside. I remember energetic Nicky who got hooked on poetry, especially the poems of Karla Kuskin. I remember, too, how my good friend and teaching colleague Dotty got my poetry collection started about thirty years ago with gifts of THE RANDOM HOUSE BOOK OF POETRY FOR CHILDREN and Shel Silverstein’s A LIGHT IN THE ATTIC. And I have fond memories of the late David McCord who gave me the gift not only of his poetry books for children—but also of his friendship and his support for my dream of becoming a children’s poet one day.

I was fortunate to have chosen a career in teaching—a career that brought me to children’s poetry. It was the reading and writing of poetry across the curriculum with my students that brought me closer to them and strengthened the teacher-pupil bond. The wonderful poetry my students wrote in class was a true reward for me. It was a reaffirmation of my belief that poetry should not be considered a subject apart from other curricula. I observed how it provided my students with a heightened vision of the other subjects they were studying in class. It also gave them an outlet for creative expression of their inner feelings and thoughts.

In looking into the past and thinking about my years of teaching young children, I see how poetry gradually became such an important part of my life and of my students’ educational experience in my classroom. Poetry enriched our days. It was a gift we shared—a gift I hope they will keep for a lifetime.

(NOTE: The original edition of A CHILD’S CALENDAR was illustrated by Nancy Ekholm Burkert and was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1965. I own a copy of that book, too. Trina Schart Hyman illustrated the 1999 edition. She received a Caldecott Honor Award for her art in the book. Updike made a few minor changes to some of the poems in the newer edition—but for the most part the poetry remains true to its earlier edition.)


Here are two poems written especially for a “new year” and a poem by Sara Coleridge that takes us through a calendar year from January to December.

by Rachel Field

Last night, while we were fast asleep,
The old year went away.
It can’t come back again because
A new one’s come to stay.

by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow;
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

by Sara Coleridge

January brings the snow,
Makes our feet and fingers glow.

February brings the rain,
Thaws the frozen lake again.

March brings breezes, loud and shrill,
To stir the dancing daffodil.

April brings the primrose sweet,
Scatters daisies at our feet.

May brings flocks of pretty lambs,
Skipping by their fleecy dams.

June brings tulips, lilies, roses,
Fills the children’s hands with posies.

Hoy July brings cooling showers,
Apricots and gillyflowers.

August brings the sheaves of corn,
Then the harvest home is borne.

Warm September brings the fruit;
Sportsmen then begin to shoot.

Fresh October brings the pheasant;
Then to gather nuts is pleasant.

Dull November brings the blast;
Then the leaves are whirling fast.

Chill December brings the sleet,
Blazing fire, and Christmas treat.



Anonymous said...

I just stumbled upon this site while looking for blogs on children's books. This is absolutely delightful and I look forward to more.

I will definitely look for A CHILD'S CALENDAR upon my next visit to the bookstore!

Elaine Magliaro said...


Glad you stumbled upon our blog. Trina Schart Hyman's illustrations in the 1999 edition of A CHILD'S CALENDAR are wonderful and so evocative of the different seasons and the activities of childhood. It's a beautiful book--one I would give as a gift.

Anonymous said...

Wooops! I wasn't paying attention and posted while signed in as the wrong person. Rudy is a character in my book that I created a blog for. If you can delete that comment, I'll repost here:

I just stumbled upon this site while looking for blogs on children's books. This is absolutely delightful and I look forward to more.

I will definitely look for A CHILD'S CALENDAR upon my next visit to the bookstore!

And I will certainly consider this as a gift! Thanks for the info!!


Anonymous said...

lovely post!