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When my Mom got the kids a Shel Silverstein book (Where the Sidewalk Ends), I was a little dubious.  Somehow I just thought he'd be a little too cutesy, but it turned out to be pretty good and the kids liked it a lot.  I like the way he often riffs off of classic styles and themes, as in the nearly Mother Gooseian:

        Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me Too

        Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me too
        Went for a ride in a flying shoe.
        "What fun!"
        "It's time we flew!"
        Said Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me too.

        Ickle was captain, and Pickle was crew
        And Tickle served coffee and mulligan stew
        As higher
        And higher
        And higher they flew,
        Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me too.

        Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me too,
        Over the sun and beyond the blue.
        "Hold on!"
        "Stay in!"
        "I hope we do!"
        Cried Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me too.

        Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle too
        Never returned to the world they knew,
        And nobody
        Knows what's
        Happened to
        Dear Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me too.

And many of them are just really funny, like:


        My dad gave me one dollar bill
        'Cause I'm his smartest son,
        And I swapped it for two shiny quarters
        'Cause two is more than one!

        And then I took the quarters
        And traded them to Lou
        For three times -- I guess he don't know
        That three is more than two!

        Just then, along came old blind Bates
        And just 'cause he can't see
        He gave me four nickles for my three dimes,
        And four is more than three!

        And I took the nickels to Hiram Coombs
        Down at the seed-feed store,
        And the fool gave me five pennies for them,
        And five is more than four!

        And then I went and showed my dad,
        And he got red in the cheeks
        And closed his eyes and shook his head--
        Too proud of me to speak!

Our son Griffin (age 3) loves:

            Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take The Garbage Out

                 Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout
                 Would not take the garbage out!
                 She'd scour the pots and scrape the pans,
                 Candy the yams and spice the hams,
                 And though her daddy would scream and shout,
                 She simply would not take the garbage out.
                 And so it piled up the ceilings:
                 Coffee grounds, potato peelings,
                 Brown bananas, rotten peas,
                 Chunks of sour cottage cheese.
                 It filled the can, it covered the floor,
                 It cracked the window and blocked the door
                 With bacon rinds and chicken bones,
                 Drippy ends of ice cream cones,
                 Prune pits, peach pits, orange peel,
                 Gloppy glumps of cold outmeal,
                 Pizza crust and withered greens,
                 Soggy beans and tangerines,
                Crusts of black burned buttered toast,
                 Gristly bits of beefy roasts...
                 The garbage rolled on down the hall,
                 It raised the roof, it broke the wall...
                 Greasy napkins, cookie crumbs,
                 Globs of gooey bubble gum,
                 Cellophane from green baloney,
                 Rubbery blubbery macaroni,
                 Peanut butter, caked and dry,
                 Curdled milk and crusts of pie,
                 Moldy melons, dried-up mustard,
                 Eggshells mixed with lemon custard,
                 Cold french fries and rancid meat,
                 Yellow lumps of Cream of Wheat.
                 At last the garbage reached so high
                 That finally it touched the sky.
                 And all the neighbors moved away,
                 And none of her friends would come to play.
                 And finally Sarah Cynthia Stout said,
                 "OK, I'll take the garbage out!"
                 But then, of course, it was too late...
                 The garbage reached across the state,
                 From New York to the Golden Gate.
                And there, in the garbage she did hate,
                 Poor Sarah met an awful fate,
                 That I cannot right now relate
                 Because the hour is much too late.
                 But children, remember Sarah Stout
                 And always take the garbage out!

We just hope that the surreptitious message is actually sinking in.

And if getting to the good stuff means tolerating the saccharine sentiment of poems like this one:

        Hug O' War

        I will not play at tug o' war.
        I'd rather play at hug o' war,
        Where everyone hugs
        Instead of tugs,
        Where everyone giggles
        And rolls on the rug,
        Where everyone kisses,
        And everyone grins,
        And everyone cuddles,
        And everyone wins.

that seems like a small price to pay, and one you come to expect in the increasingly politically correct world of children's literature.  It's kind of like how you have to wade through the Star-Bellied Sneeches to get to The Grinch.

What I did not realize at the time was that Silverstein had also written two of the great Country novelty tunes of all time--Johnny Cash's:

    A Boy Named Sue

    My daddy left home when I was three,
    And he didn't leave much to Ma and me...
    Just this old guitar and an empty bottle of booze.
    Now, I don't blame him cause he run and hid,
    But the meanest thing that he ever did
    Was before he left, he went and named me 'Sue'.

    Well, he must o' thought that is was quite a joke,
    And it got a lot of laughs from a' lots of folk.
    It seems I had to fight my whole life through.
    Some gal would giggle and I'd get red,
    And some guy'd laugh and I'd bust his head.
    I tell ya, life ain't easy for a boy named 'Sue'.

    Well, I grew up quick and I grew up mean,
    My fist got hard and my wits got keen.
    I'd roam from town to town to hide my shame.
    But I made me a vow to the moon and stars
    That I'd search the honky-tonks and bars,
    And kill that man that give me that awful name.

    Well, it was Gatlinburg in mid-July
    And I just hit town, and my throat was dry.
    I thought I'd stop and have myself a brew.
    At an old saloon on a street of mud,
    There at a table, dealing stud,
    Sat the dirty, mangy dog that named me 'Sue'.

    Well, I knew that snake was my own sweet dad
    From a worn-out picture that my mother'd had,
    And I knew that scar on his cheek and his evil eye.
    He was big and bent and gray and old,
    And I looked at him and my blood ran cold,
    And I said: "My name is 'Sue!' How do you do! Now you gonna die!"

    Well, I hit him hard right between the eyes,
    And he went down, but, to my surprise,
    He come up with a knife and cut off a piece of my ear.
    But I busted a chair right across his teeth
    And we crashed through the wall and into the street
    Kicking and a' gouging in the mud and the blood and the beer.

    I tell ya, I've fought tougher men,
    But I really can't remember when,
    He kicked like a mule and he bit like a crocodile.
    I heard him laugh and then I heard him cuss,
    He went for his gun and I pulled mine first,
    He stood there lookin' at me and I saw him smile.

    And he said: "Son, this world is rough,
    And if a man's gonna make it, he's gotta be tough,
    And I know I wouldn't be there to help ya along.
    So I give ya that name and I said good-bye.
    I knew you'd have to get tough or die,
    And it's that name that helped to make you strong."

    He said: "Now you just fought one hell of a fight,
    And I know you hate me, and you got the right
    To kill me now, and I wouldn't blame you if you do.
    But ya ought to thank me, before I die,
    For the gravel in ya guts and the spit in ya eye
    Cause I'm the son-of-a-b**** that named you 'Sue'."

    I got all choked up and I threw down my gun
    And I called him my pa, and he called me his son,
    And I come away with a different point of view.
    And I think about him, now and then,
    Every time I try and every time I win,
    And if I ever have a son, I think I'm gonna name him
    Bill or George! Anything but sue! I still hate that name!

and the immortal:

Put Another Log On the Fire
(recorded by Tompall Glaser, 1974)

                                                  Put another log on the fire,
                                              Cook me up some bacon and some beans;
                                              And go out to the car and change the tire
                                              Wash my socks and sew my old blue jeans.

                                               Come on, Baby, you can fill my pipe,
                                                 And then go fetch my slippers,
                                                And boil me up another pot of tea;
                                               Then put another log on the fire, Babe,
                                              And come and tell me why you're leavin' me.

                                              Now don't I let you wash the car on Sunday?
                                              Don't I warn you when you're getting fat?
                                               Ain't I gonna take you fishin' someday?
                            &n?bsp;                Well, a man can't love a woman more than that.

                                               Ain't I always nice to your kid sister?
                                                Don't I take her drivin' ev'ry night?
                                                  So, sit here at my feet,
                                               'Cause i like you when you're sweet,
                                               And you know it ain't feminine to fight.

                                               Come on, Baby, you can fill my pipe,
                                                 And then go fetch my slippers,
                                                And boil me up another pot of tea;
                                               Then put another log on the fire, Babe,
                                              And come and tell me why you're leavin' me.

So I realized I was already, albeit unwittingly, at least a mild fan of his work.  Then recently to my pleasant surprise I found a copy of The Giving Tree for a quarter at the local library book sale.  I brought it home & showed my wife and she said: "I can't believe you got that book, it's so sad".  I'll admit I may have scoffed a little. Then I read it and darn near found my eyes growing moist.  I just felt so sorry for the tree that I wanted to pistol whip that selfish, acquisitive kid/man. Which brings us to the question:  Is it possible that this slender children's book is one of the most insightful comments ever written on the "Me" generation?

This may strike you as absurd, but take a look at the First Things Symopsium about the book that I found online.  For my own part, I read the book as a tragedy, and despite my initial reaction, the boy/man strikes me as the tragic figure.  He is completely consumed by selfish concerns and what he can get from the tree.  The story could equally well be called The Taking Boy.  And in the twilight of his life, what does he have left after taking and taking and taking?  Nothing.  In fact, he has to return to the tree and ask for more.  The final scene seems less of a "reconciliation" than one more desperate act of selfish consumption on his part.  It reminded me of Citizen Kane, with Charles Foster Kane looking back at his life from his death bed and realizing how unfulfilled he is.

Silverstein was just a tad older than the Baby Boomers, but his status as a pop icon rested on their enthusiasm.  So it's ironic that they made him a best-selling author by blindly reading this truly devastating critique of their cohort and their lifestyle to their kids.  Ironic, but delicious.

Dorothy C. Judd's review:

Like many "children's" picture books, The Giving Tree  by Shel Silverstein can be read at a variety of levels.  For the younger child, it is an interesting story in which a boy has a  relationship with a tree.  It appeals to the child for its basic langauge,  its repetitive pattern, and its line drawings.  An older child may see the story as sad, even poignant.  For the adult, it can be an allegory of aging.

In the beginning, the boy  enjoys the simple pleasures of life the tree provides.  Then the boy begins  to seek material goods, and each time the tree obliges,  driving the human and the tree farther and farther apart. When the tree ostensibily has nothing left to give, both the tree and the now old man enjoy quiet reflection and companionship.

Depending upon the reader's inclination, the tree can represent a parent, the universe itself, a Higher Spirit.  Stretched to the limit, one can compare the Giving Tree to the Tree of Life  which can satisfy while one is still in a state of innocence  (the Garden of  Eden) which one abandons as one becomes more and more enamored of the material world.  Finally, though, Silverstein portrays a reconciliation.



Grade: (A+)


See also:

Shel Silverstein (2 books reviewed)
Children's Books
Book-related and General Links:
    -OBIT: Versed in the Language of Life  Poet Silverstein moved kids, adults (Suzanne Curley, 5/12/99, Newsday)
    -TRIBUTE: Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky celebrates the poetry of the late Shel Silverstein (Online Newshour, PBS)
    -TRIBUTE: Fare Thee Well, Shel (Kate Marley)
    -TRIBUTE: Commentary on Shel Silverstein (Bob Lochte)
    -American Academy of Poets Shel Silverstein Page
    -Shel Silverstein
    -SHEL SILVERSTEIN  (1930-1999) Collected Information by Sely Friday
    -The many, multiple, magnetic, magnificent, macabre, mad, mocking, magical, monumental, and memorable Messages of Shel Silverstein
    -poems & drawings by Shel Silverstein
    -Shel Silverstein's poetry
    -The Shel Silverstein Archive
    -Harper Childrens: Shel Silverstein  1930-1999
    -Jamie's My Page on Shel Silverstein
    -Shel Silverstein (Ugh!)
    -Shel Silverstein (Katina)
    -The Sidewalk Ends  (Brooke Williams)
    -Banned Width: The Adult Works of shel silverstein
    -LYRICS: (from Banned Width)
    -Shel Silverstein Discography Compiled by Rob Killam
    -Songs of Shel Silverstein (More Things)
    -SONG: Put Another Log On the Fire By Shel Silverstein
    -AUDIO: Morgo's Media Menu:  Rare Shel Silverstein LPs in RealAudio Format
    -AUDIO: MP3 of Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take The Garbage Out
    -AUDIO: Cory Larson-Thomas reading poems by Shel Silverstein--Recorded July 6, 1999 during OpenMike Poetry night
    -SHOCKWAVE: of Uncle Shelby's ABZ's Book
    -LINKS: Shel Silverstein (1932-1999)
    -LINKS:   Silverstein, Shel Web sites (Go Network)
    -BULLETIN BOARD: The Shel Silverstein Fan Board
    -Fuller Up The Dead Musician Director: Shel Silverstein
    -TEACHERS GUIDE: The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
    -TEACHERS GUIDE: Poetry for the Elementary Classroom Grades 3-4; language arts (Francis J. Degnan. From Yale New Haven  Lesson Plans)
    -TEACHERS GUIDE: Shel Silverstein. Literature Focus Unit  3rd grade; from Washington State University
    -TEACHERS GUIDE: Trees, Trees, Trees!!!!   Lesson Plan. Grades 2-5. By Vicki Vrooman. From ERIC
    -COMPUTER EXERCISE: Revision Exercise #1:  The Meaning of Shel Silverstein  (Joyce R. Walker)
    -Dennis Locorriere: The Voice of Dr. Hook
    -Official Old Dogs Webpage
    -ARTICLE: Behind the Best Sellers; SHEL SILVERSTEIN (Edwin McDowell, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: CHILDREN'S BOOKS; THE LIGHT IN HIS ATTIC (Myra Cohn Livingston, NY times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: A boy named Shel:  A member of Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show recalls Shel Silverstein's wicked ways with songs and women (RIK ELSWIT, Salon)
    -ARTICLE: Bobby bares his soul: Son of music star has a hit with cheatin', hurtin' and rockin' style (MIKE ROSS, Express)
    -ETEXT: The Giving Tree (first Things)
    -SYMPOSIUM: The Giving Tree: A Symposium (First Things, January 1995)
    -REVIEW: of Light in the Attic (X. J. Kennedy, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of FALLING UP Poems and Drawings. By Shel Silverstein (Judy Zuckerman, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Falling Up, by Shel Silverstein (Rachel Nichols, Bryn Mawr School's Student Newspaper)
    -REVIEW: of THE MISSING P IECE MEETS THE BIG O By Shel Silverstein (JOYCE MILTON, NY Times Book Review)

    -BOOK LIST: NEA's 1998/99 Cat-a-List for Reading:  Teachers' 100 Favorite Books for Children
    -BOOK LIST: Children's Top 100 Books: What America's kids love to read (NEA)
    -BOOK LIST: Teachers Announce Top 100 Favorite Children's Books
    -ESSAY: FAITH IN WORDS AND PICTURES (John Donovan, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: LIGHT VERSE: DEAD BUT REMARKABLY ROBUST (Brad Leithauser, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of THE OXFORD BOOK OF CHILDREN'S VERSE IN AMERICA Edited by Donald Hall (Alison Lurie, NY Times Book Review)