As I kid, I could never get enough of Shel Silverstein’s poetry. I had all the books, and I read them constantly. Yet up until about a week ago, I hadn’t gone back to collections like Falling Up, Where the Sidewalk Ends, and A Light in the Attic.
It only took a few pages of the latter – or, to put it another way, it only took a handful of Silverstein’s poems and accompanying pictures – for me to see what drew me so strongly to the books as a child. They are by turns silly and serious, whimsical and wise, subversive, tender, and now and again just plain strange. In other words, they offer kids precisely what they want – and also, I’d argue, precisely what they need – from books.
That being said, for this week’s passage of the week, I haven’t chosen a poem, but instead a tiny portion of text found on the very last page of Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic – a few lines that it’s possible most of the book’s readers (especially the young ones) never paid any attention to. It’s the acknowledgements page, where Silverstein cites the specific inspirations for a few of his poems. Five poems, to be exact. Five out of well over a hundred. Silverstein doesn’t leave you hanging, though. He tells you where the rest of his poems came from, too. He tells you in just six words – words that could quietly encourage anyone to peer inside their own heads to see what strange and silly things they’ve got lurking in there. And though I can’t ever know for sure, I’ve got a pretty good feeling that the last page of A Light in the Attic was one that this young reader didn’t miss.
. . .
From “A Light in the Attic,” by Shel Silverstein (p. 176)
“Ladies First” is based on a story of mine with the same title, © 1974, Free to Be Foundation, Inc.
“Sour Face Ann” was taken from an old Russian folktale.
“Backward Bill” was suggested by a bedtime story my brother-in-law, Chuck, told his children. “The Meehoo With an Exactlywatt” was inspired by Abbott and Costello, and “Deaf Donald” showed up after a conversation with Pam Larsson. The rest I just made up.