January 2019

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EatReadSleep blogger Cheryl Teal, a collection development librarian, yesterday posted an entry on A Child’s Calendar, by John Updike and Trina Schart Hyman,” in which she shares her rediscovery of the book and her affirmation that it’s worthy of being considered a classic.

“Our library system runs a report to find titles that are getting low on copies, and we selectors review it to find the gems that need to be re-ordered. Some titles and series are deservedly going out of print, but others are beloved classics that every library should keep forever. I was intrigued to find A Child’s Calendar—which I had never read—on that report, so not only did I order more copies, I also checked out a copy for myself.”

“Perhaps the best part of this discovery was that Updike chose one of my favorite illustrators for the updated edition. Trina Schart Hyman uses rich colors and black outlines to create busy, charming family scenes. Her diverse children and adults live in mostly rural and small-town settings, displaying both the labor and laughter of everyday life. . . . Surprisingly, Updike and Hyman were both born in Pennsylvania and later moved to New England.”

“Originally published in 1965, Updike made many changes and reprinted the volume in 1999. There is a poem for each month of the year, sweet and nostalgic, with traditional families and realistic humor. Here is the last stanza of the March poem:

“‘The mud smells happy
On our shoes.
We still wear mittens,
Which we lose.'”

The result? “This is a book to treasure for generations,” Teal concludes. “A lovely way to feed little souls.”

Famously before him came poet Wallace Stevens, but John Updike and his fellow writer aren’t the only celebrities to come from Berks County. Susan Miers Smith wrote about Updike and four others in a Jan. 2 Reading Eagle story titled “5 celebrities with Berks County connections”—though the lower-case “is” in one book title and “Poorhouse” written as two words would have made Updike cringe. Also included in this batch are singer Taylor Swift, Hall of Fame football player Lenny Moore, actor Michael Constantine, and artist Keith Haring.

Updike’s “claim to fame,” according to Smith: “Internationally known author and poet. Twice won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction: in 1982 for Rabbit Is Rich and in 1990 for Rabbit at Rest. He published more than 30 fiction books from 1959-2008.”

To that we might add that Updike was one of only a handful of Americans to receive both the National Medal of Arts and the National Humanities Medal in White House ceremonies from two different presidents. And he was one of only three literary writers to appear more than once on the cover of Time magazine—the others being Nobel laureates Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner. Updike published more than 60 books in all genres: fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, criticism, drama, and children’s books.