This new picture book may seem oddly familiar. Alfred A. Knopf first published John Updike's A Child's Calendar in 1965, with illustrations by Nancy Ekholm Burkert. The 1999 reissue, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, incorporates a number of the author's revisions. The textual changes are nowhere near as dramatic as the changes in illustrations; the new edition is very much a version for the '90s.
The 12 poems, one for each month, are accompanied by full-page illustrations and smaller pictures beside each poem. Hyman, who has won a Caldecott Medal and numerous other awards, not only illustrates the poems but also creates a whole tapestry of a modern family's relationships. Updike's poems are acted out by an obviously loving and affectionate interracial stepfamily black father, white mother, two black children, two white children. They even have two cats and two dogs. Hyman's style is a lively mix of draftsman and painter. Most objects are gracefully drawn and outlined, filling their role in a riotous play of color. Flowers in the foreground are delineated down to their stamens; yet clouds and mountains become swirls of watercolor. The result is cheerful and detailed and will reward a child's attentive prowling. Every scene is packed with realistic details.
Updike paints life in this picturesque New England village as considerably more innocent and joyful than the adulterous towns in his Hawthorne-haunted morality plays for adults. And, because he is an artist and not merely another scribbler of picture books, Updike brings in his typically cosmic view in his thankful November poem about the stark leafless world: The beauty of / The bone. Tall God / Must see our souls / This way, and nod.