(The formatting of the blog is temporarily out of sorts, I’m trying to fix it, hopefully it will go back to it’s usual self soon.) 

You guys, shame on you! What conspiracy is this? How come I’m only finding out about Shel Silverstein now? Everyone on the internet seems to have a memory associated with his poems and stories and I only heard of him because of Amy’s comment on my previous post (I’m not American, so I guess that might have something to do with it).

After Amy’s recommendation I got curious and the samples I found online hooked me so much that I immediately ordered his three poetry books: Falling Up, Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic.

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All three are wonderful and perfectly capture what I remember about being a kid: the slightly gross and wacky humor, the rebellion combined with pure tenderness, the uncontrolled imagination. They are the perfect read-aloud material, not only for the poems but also for Silverstein’s own illustrations, which often add something to the meaning of the text. I’m only sorry his play on words must be really hard to translate, which limit his audience.

My favorites poems are the “no-nonesense funny” ones, like EARLY BIRD

Oh, if you’re a bird, be an early bird
And catch the worm for your breakfast plate.
If you’re a bird, be an early early bird-
But if you’re a worm, sleep late.

But I also love the ones about exploring the world and its endless possibilities, like LISTEN TO THE MUSNT’TS

Listen to the MUSTN’TS, child,
Listen to the DON’TS
Listen to the SHOULDN’TS
The IMPOSSIBLES, the WON’Ts
Listen to the NEVER HAVES
Then listen close to me-
Anything can happen, child,
ANYTHING can be.

Don’t you just get a little knot in your throat reading this? I can’t wait for David to be big enough for me to read it to him. Some poems have subtle lessons that will also be fun to explore with little D. What will he make of this (and the one with the masks below)?

FISH?

The little fish eats the tiny fish,
The big fish eats the little fish-
So only the biggest fish gets fat.
Do you know any folks like that?

I don’t usually go for surreal poetry or literature (really didn’t get into Alice in Wonderland, for instance), but there was something about Silverstein’s writing that hit a cord. He created characters who eat the universe, who write poetry from inside a lion, who invent a light that plugs the sun and a boy who watched so much TV he turned into one. The kind of stuff a child would actually come up with, so t’s a real gift for an adult to pull that off.

Shel Silverstein’s books are often challenged and banned exactly because of this tongue-in-cheek humor. There is also an undeniable leftish, anti-system, free-thinking, rebellious vibe to his work. One poem instructs kids to kill themselves so that parents will feel guilty about not doing what they want, another called “MA AND GOD” ends with “Either Ma’s wrong or else God is”. It does teach defiance and questioning dogmas, but I suspect the parents who get offended may have forgotten what it’s like being a kid.

Thanks once again Amy for the tip. I’m sure these books will become a family tradition.

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