Partly Nostalgic Review: Shel Silverstein!

A lizard in a blizzard

Got a snowflake in his gizzard

And nothing else much happened, I’m afraid.

But lizard rhymed with blizzard

And blizzard rhymed with gizzard

And that, my dear, is why most poems are made.*

Sixteen years ago, I was wandering through a random store with family and did a double-take in the book section.  Sweet!  A new Shel Silverstein book!  This was Falling Up, the third of Silverstein’s big poem-and-drawing collections.  I’d gotten A Light in the Attic – published fifteen years before Falling Up – the previous Christmas and had spent a good quarter of the seven-hour ride home from my grandparents’ singing the poems out loud.  Because they sounded even funnier that way.  And because I was ten.

Well, how convenient that the day I discovered there was more hilarity and goofiness to be read was just a few days from my birthday!

Flash forward to a few weeks ago, when, wandering into the local children’s bookstore, I did another double-take.  I’m pretty sure I actually said out loud, “You’re kidding!”


That same blank background, that same goofy drawing style and the curious title – a preview of the oddness inside.  According to the official Silverstein website (which sings.  In a funny voice.  With cartoony sound effects.  Seriously, go check it out!), Everything On It “follow[s] the tradition and format of [Silverstein’s] acclaimed poetry classics,” containing “more than one hundred and thirty never-before-seen poems and drawings … selected by his family from his archives…” **

And they’re right.  The poems and doodle-like drawings in this release have that characteristic Shel Silverstein feel:  goofy, tongue-in-cheeky, super sweet, even a little bittersweet.  Take the opening poem, “Years From Now”:

Although I cannot see your face

As you flip these poems awhile,

Somewhere from some far-off place

I hear you laughing—and I smile.

There’s a similar feeling in the closing poem.  Even before I read on his website that Mr. Silverstein passed away in 1999, that last poem felt like a goodbye.

But, to paraphrase Flynn Rider from the beginning of Tangled, don’t worry – this is a very fun book!  (and actually, that closing poem isn’t even really the last poem…but I’ll let you see for yourself what I mean 😉 )  There’s plenty of good ol’ Silversteinian clowning around.  See why the guy on page 23 wears such a “silly-lookin’ hat.”  Or why the pelican decided to marry the elephant.  Or who actually invented Trick-or-treating.  And did you hear the one about the scientist and the hippopotamus?

You’ll see those same Silverstein-style punch-lines, and that same interplay between text and drawing – like in Anthony Browne’s Through the Magic Mirror.  What’s new:  it feels like there’s a bit more social commentary, especially in “Food?” and “Call the Please.”  Or maybe it feels more current…even though the poems were written at least thirteen years ago.

The only ones I didn’t like were “Dirty Face” (most of it is sweet, but the ending left me thinking, “Uh…ouch?”) and “Elvina,” which has the kind of morbid humor I just don’t go for.  Most of the poems, though, are much brighter and goofier.

In conclusion, the following are some of my favorite Shel Silverstein poems:

Where the Sidewalk Ends

  • “Invitation” – pg 9
  • “It’s Dark In Here” – pg 21
  • “The Loser” – pg 25
  • “Me and My Giant” – pages 38-39
  • The one on page 107.
  • “Forgotten Language” – pg 149

A Light in the Attic

  • “Rock ‘N’ Roll Band” – pages 24-25
  • “Mr. Smeds and Mr. Spats” – pages 42-43
  • “Ations” – pg 59
  • “Hippo’s Hope” – pages 88-89
  • “The Little Boy and the Old Man” – pg. 95
  • “Nobody” – pg. 124
  • “Batty” – pg. 139

Falling Up

  • “Little Pig’s Treat” – pg 13
  • “The Monkey” – pg 40
  • “The Bear, the Fire, and the Snow” – pg 55
  • “Gardener” – pg 68
  • “Lyin’ Larry” – pg 109
  • “Stork Story” – pages 166-167

Everything On It

  • “Jimmy-Jack-John” – pg 88
  • “Underface” – pg 132
  • “Not an Egg” and “The Rainbow Thrower” – pages 134 and 135
  • “After” – pg 139
  • “You’ll Never Be King” – pg 153
  • “Mer-Maid” (shocking, right?) – pages 170-171
  • “King Tut’s Skull” – pg 180
  • “Spider” – pg 190


*     Everything On It, pg. 37.

**   See the “What’s New” section of Silverstein’s website.

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