Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Strict Pick: EVERYTHING ON IT by Shel Silverstein

Some time ago, when I was old enough to find it hilarious, I heard that Shel Silverstein regularly wrote for Playboy and didn't care much for children. I've confirmed the first, the second remains a mystery, but both make him an intriguing children's poet. I've wondered if it is precisely because he was used to writing the absurd and not particularly invested in writing "for children" that made him such a wonderful writer.

One of my fondest memories of first grade (and yes, I remember first grade very well--I'm odd like that) was my teacher doing a very dramatic, and very drawn-out reading of "Peanut Butter Sandwich." It's one of those formative things as a writer, the kind that you remember dozens of years later because you hear words being used like that and think, "How do I do that?"

Of course, I think it takes someone like Silverstein to be Silverstein. To get the quirky and the touching, and the brilliantly wacky illustrations all in one. 1999 was a sad year, to see a man whose poems I'd memorized gone forever (I've been known to quote "How Not to Have to Dry the Dishes" at people whenever I'm stuck in that "awful, boring chore").

That said, posthumous books usually suck. The way I figure it, if you didn't publish it during your lifetime, it's probably because it wasn't good enough. PIRATE LATITUDES by Crichton is a pretty prime example of this. So I was wary until I set my hands on this one on the SOS cart.

The poetry is just as sharp as always, the drawings every bit as intriguing and absurd. Perhaps this collection might turn out to be even more funny-quirky than usual, because after all the things he did publish, you have to start wondering what was so crazy even he considered it too off-the-wall. I read about a dozen poems in the book while shelving it, and they brought back wonderful memories of reciting and laughing at WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS and A LIGHT IN THE ATTIC.

So tonight, I'm going to curl down with FALLING UP, and then tomorrow, dive into EVERYTHING. You should, too.

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