Falling Up Into the Words of Shel Silverstein
April 15, 2013
Where the Sidewalk Ends, the fun begins
For those who wish to learn the outs and ins
Of the beautiful art of poetry
Or the simple story of The Giving Tree.
So please allow me to take some time
To tell you about Shel Silverstein.
April is National Poetry Month, and for a long time, many have been lamenting the death of poetry here in the United States. Poetry does not get a lot of attention in popular media, nor does it seem to get much focus in school nowadays. I have always believed that the best way to get people interested in something is to start when they are young. So, if we wish to pass on the wonderful tradition of poetry to the next generation, we need to get them started as kids. And, one of the best poets around for children is Shel Silverstein.
Shel Silverstein (1930-1999) actually started off as a cartoonist. His first cartoons were published in Pacific Stars and Stripes while he was serving in the military. Eventually, he began writing cartoons for Playboy magazine (yup, Playboy). Silverstein was also a musician who wrote many songs for the band Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show. His compositions have also been sung by the likes of Loretta Lynn, Gordon Lightfoot, and Waylon Jennings. His most famous song, however, is probably the Johnny Cash hit, A Boy Named Sue, for which he won a Grammy in 1970. He was also inducted into Nashville’s Songwriters Hall of Fame. But he is most famously known for his story, The Giving Tree, as well as his collections of whimsical poetry written for children like Where the Sidewalk Ends, A Light in the Attic, and Falling Up.
The Giving Tree is the story of the sacrifice that a tree makes to the boy that it loves. Throughout the boy’s life, the tree continues to give more and more of itself to meet the boy’s needs until it is left as only a stump. As the boy grows to be an old man, the tree’s final gift is a place to rest. The story is beautifully rendered with simple words and wonderful illustration. It has, also, surprisingly been the source of controversy. While some feel that it represents the selfless love parents have for their children, others believe that it is a story of selfishness on the boy’s part and a pointless sacrifice on the part of the tree.
Silverstein’s poetry is a great introduction to children about how much fun the art of the poem can be. His poems can run for a couple of lines or a couple of pages. The subjects are often fantastical and, at times, laugh out loud funny. They range from tales of a hat maker attempting to sell to people without any heads to a girl who turns everything she touches to raspberry Jell-O. Or you can read about the Sleepy-Eyed Skurk and the Quick-Digesting Gink. There is no end to the imaginative images Silverstein’s poems create. Unbelievably, some people have actually complained about some of his poems. One poem, from A Light in the Attic, was even attacked for encouraging disobedience because it described a child attempting to get out of drying the dishes.
Helping children discover poems that they find entertaining is the first step in showing them how interesting poetry can be. Poems that are fun to read and recite may help encourage kids to start creating their own poems. This can lead, as they get older, to them to seeking out other poets. Who knows, eventually even Shakespeare’s Sonnets may peak their interest. But, starting out with authors like Shel Silverstein can be the perfect way to begin a child’s journey to a lifelong love of poetry.
So in the end, let us say
That Silverstein could lead the way
To a life of verse and a love of rhyme
That could evolve at any time
To something far greater. And you may see,
Someday, a poet looking back at thee