Monday, January 2, 2012

Reading the New Year

The New Year seems like a perfect time to talk about calendars and months, which gives me the opportunity to read Jackson three wonderful and stylistically quite different books!
  • The Berenstain Bears in the Bears' Almanac by Stan and Jan Berenstain: The Almanac, included in this case in The Berenstain Bears' Science and Nature Super Treasury, explains weather, seasons and natural cycles with the usual effervesence of Stan and Jan Berenstain. I had the Bears' Almanac as a child and I know every page like the back of my hand. The other two books in the Treasury are The Berenstain Bears' Nature Guide and The Berenstain Bears' Science Fair, which are new to me and I feel lucky to have them. Nature Guide is more my personal style than Science Fair, but Science Fair does a great job of explaining stuff like levers and pulleys and, you know, physics. So far we've just looked at the entries for winter and spring, but we'll progress as the year does.
  • A Child's Calendar, poems by John Updike, illustrations by Trina Schart Hyman. This book is so unique and superlative I don't even know where to start. The month-by-month poems are pitch-perfect, but it's the slice-of-life portraits of two biracial New England kids (and in the background, their parents) that really sets this book apart. The details and nuances of the watercolors are just remarkable, and I could look at this book every day for months and not get bored. Trina Schart Hyman is one of my favorite illustrators of all time, thanks in no small part to her cover for Ronia, the Robber's Daughter, and this book just makes me happy. (Jackson liked seeing the kids sled through January.)
  • The Year At Maple Hill Farm, by Alice and Martin Provensen: This is another one from my childhood. I have read it literally hundreds of times. The spread for July is burned into my soul, and the bit about feeding animals their medicine is something I think about strangely often. It's a sequel to another even more wonderful book called Our Animal Friends At Maple Hill Farm, which I just read for the first time this year with Jackson. We both love Animal Friends dearly and can page through it for hours, and now that I know both books, I love finding the connections between them and knowing more about scenes and animals I feel like I've known my whole life.
  • Last but not least, we're reading the New Year's page from the ever-reliable Illustrated Treasury of Poetry for Children, which seems to always have a note-perfect selection for an occasion on the calendar. In this case there is an old-year poem, a new-year poem and Tennyson's evocative "Ring Out, Wild Bells," which I reprint here for your reading pleasure:

    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, and 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.

   Ring out the grief that saps the mind
        For those that here we see no more ;
        Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
    Ring in redress to all mankind.

    Ring out a slowly dying cause,
        And ancient forms of party strife ;
        Ring in the nobler modes of life,
    With sweeter manners, purer laws.

    Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
        The faithless coldness of the times ;
        Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
    But ring the fuller minstrel in.

    Ring out false pride in place and blood,
        The civic slander and the spite ;
        Ring in the love of truth and right,
    Ring in the common love of good.

    Ring out old shapes of foul disease ;
        Ring out the narrowing lust of gold ;
        Ring out the thousand wars of old,
    Ring in the thousand years of peace.

    Ring in the valiant man and free,
        The larger heart, the kindlier hand ;
        Ring out the darkness of the land,
    Ring in the Christ that is to be.


  1. Whoa. I finally figured out how to comment on this blog. My Google account was previously messed up.

    Anyhooo, The Berenstains Bears bit made me think about when I was an undergrad and took two quarters of Psychology classes at Bing Nursery school. The teachers there were very anti-Berenstain Bears. They thought it was too didactic and condescending for children.

    Now, as a parent, I can kind of see their point, but that doesn't mean we don't own any ourselves. :)

  2. I've read that there are basically two (and maybe three) varieties of Berenstain Bear: the early-era Beginner Books (like Great Honey Hunt, B Book, Old Spooky Tree, Old Hat New Hat) and then the later more didactic books. The Bear Facts Library books like the science one above might be another category. Anyway, I love what I've seen of Bear Facts, I really like their Beginner Books, and their didactic books are fine if not great, but they serve a purpose, ya know?