Homage to Shel Silverstein
During Thanksgiving, we played a game in which one person had the name of a famous person stuck to his or her forehead, and the rest of the players answered questions to help the player figure out who they were supposed to be. In one round, my eight-year-old daughter picked the celebrity. She suggested that we use Shel Silverstein as the name for her aunt’s forehead.
So, imagine her delight when on Christmas morning, she opened a copy of Silverstein’s Every Thing On It (2011). It was from her grandfather, my dad, who had remembered her interest in Silverstein’s poetry. For the last few years, her favorite book has been The Missing Piece (1976). My husband has spent many nights reading it to her and with her, each of them taking turns in silly sing-song voices. I think they have it memorized.
When I was a child, one of my favorite books to peruse on a rainy day was Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic (1981). His creative and whimsical poetry never failed to brighten my day. And I’m sure most of us are familiar with The Giving Tree (1964). Silverstein’s work is timeless and classic, sure to never go out of style or favor with children (or adults).
Since Every Thing On It was a present for my daughter, I, of course, read it first, on Christmas day, while my family was occupied with other toys and movies. Here are my favorite poems from the collection.
She had blue skin,
And so did he.
He kept it hid
And so did she.
They search for blue
Their whole life through,
Then passed right by—
And never knew.
The Yesees and Noees
The Yesees said yes to anything
That anyone suggested.
The Noees said no to everything
Unless it was proven and tested.
So the Yesees all died of much too much
And the Noees all died of fright,
But somehow I think the Thinkforyourselfees
All came out all right.
Underneath my outside face
There’s a face that none can see.
A little less smiley,
A little less sure,
But a whole lot more like me.
You can’t crawl back in the dollhouse—
You’ve gotten too big to get in.
You’ve got to live here
Like the rest of us do.
You’ve got to walk roads
That are winding and new.
But oh, I wish I could
Crawl back with you,
Into the dollhouse again.
Now you may be wondering why this collection was published in 2011, when Silverstein died of a heart attack in 1999. Well, it was published posthumously. If only there were more manuscripts hidden away, and we could benefit from new works of genius for years to come. Since we can’t, we’ll have to make do with what he did produce.
Here’s my daughter’s favorite poem from the collection so far. It’s the title poem.
Every Thing On It
I asked for a hot dog
With everything on it,
And that was my big mistake,
‘Cause it came with a parrot,
A bee in a bonnet,
A wristwatch, a wrench, and a rake.
It came with a goldfish,
A flag, and a fiddle,
A frog, and a front porch swing,
And a mouse in a mask—
That’s the last time I ask
For a hot dog with everything.
I think the best quality of the poetry, although silly and creative, is the deeper meaning. The verses may mean different things to different people, and those meanings may change depending on your age, life circumstances, or perspective, but the poems are multi-layered and meaningful. They explore the profound truths of life, the mysteries of human nature, and the trouble with getting old or being young.
The illustrations don’t hurt things either. Sometimes, they make the entire poem work.
What’s your favorite Shel Silverstein book/poem?
Silverstein, Shel. Every Thing On It. New York: Harper Collins, 2011.