One-Minute Book Reviews

November 1, 2008

Children’s Poems About November by J. Patrick Lewis and John Updike

The words May and June are easier to rhyme. But November has inspired its share of poetry, including children’s poems by J. Patrick Lewis and John Updike that build toward a Thanksgiving meal.

Lewis celebrates the joys of the month in “November,” a 16-line rhyming poem collected in Thanksgiving: Stories and Poems (HarperCollins, 1989, ages 7 and up), edited by Caroline Feller Bauer and illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott. He writes of pumpkin pies, “the thank-you bird” and other seasonal pleasures:

Red squirrels, busy packing
Oak cupboards for weeks,
Still rattle the branches
With seeds in their cheeks.

The meaning of that quatrain is clearer than the first lines of the poem: “The bottoms of autumn / Wear diamonds of frost.” Are the lines talking about part of the natural landscape, such as the low areas next to rivers known as “bottoms”? Or are they referring to the patterns left on our clothes when we sit on frost-covered park benches?

John Updike’s more eloquent “November” is among the 12 poems, one for each month, collected in A Child’s Calendar (Holiday House, 32 pp., $6.99, paperback, ages 4 and up), a Caldecott Honor book beautifully illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. His “November” is a quiet poem, written in iambic meter – the closest to natural speech – instead of high-stepping anapests and dactyls. But it’s so thoughtful, you wish it were also available in a chapter-book format, too. Updike’s “November” describes a region — it looks like northern New England — that by Thanksgiving has lost more than the leaves on the maples and the birds in the air: “And yet the world, / Nevertheless, / Displays a certain / Loveliness.”

Updike suggests that in the barren trees of November, we see the world exposed to the bone, the way God must “see our souls” – an extraordinary subtle idea compared with so much of the pap that publishers fling at 4-to-8-year-olds. Older children – who might see more of the layers in his poem — might snub it because it appears in a picture book. Teenagers would have another reason to give thanks if Updike produced a young-adult book that combined all the poems in A Child’s Calendar with those in his earlier collections.

To read about A Child’s Calendar and see the cover if you can’t see it here, visit the Holiday House site. holidayhouse.com/title_display.php?ISBN=978082341445

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

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