This September has been an oddly momentous month for children’s literature – first, we got the publication of Bumble-Ardy, Maurice Sendak’s first new illustrated and authored children’s story in 30 years, and then, if that wasn’t enough, this week, we get the release of Every Thing On It, a brand-new collection of 130 previously unreleased poems and drawings from the late, great Shel Silverstein, only the second “new” collection of Silverstein’s work to be released since his death in 1999. Talk about an embarrassment of riches.
My family is particularly excited about Every Thing On It. Shel Silverstein is a master of language, particularly in using language to speak directly into the brain stems of eager children. We started reading to my daughter from A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends when she was three years old and, at first, I really didn’t think that my daughter was going to have the patience to sit and listen to poetry being read to her. It just seemed very… abstract, esoteric, it didn’t seem to have the immediacy of a picture book. I thought she’d be bored. However, once we got started, I quickly realized a profound and universal truth – I get things wrong ALL THE TIME. (Take a note, dear readers. That truth is going to come up again and again on this blog.)
Me being horribly, pig-headedly, stupendously WRONG has occurred multiple times during my brief tenure as a parent so far, and it has almost always involved situations where I completely underestimate my kid. Reading Shel Silverstein was one of those situations. She LOVED the poems. She was quiet, attentive, enraptured. After the second night of reading a selection of Shel poems before bed, she had already MEMORIZED some of the shorter ones. It was uncanny, and it really speaks to Silverstein’s ninja-like virtuosity with words and images and how he was able to use that skill to engage whole generations of young readers. For an author with the, hands down, scariest back-cover photo in the history of children’s lit, Shel Silverstein was a tremendous friend and ally to kids all over the world, speaking to them – never speaking down to them – with such depth, sophistication, and a sense of fun that they couldn’t help but love the guy.
So, in honor of the publication of Every Thing On It, here are two classic videos of Shel doing what he does best, entertaining everyone around him.
The first video is an extremely cool clip of Shel appearing on The Johnny Cash Show back in 1970 where he does a few songs, including a duet with Cash (Silverstein wrote the lyrics to one of Cash’s most famous songs “A Boy Named Sue”). The second video is an animated clip of Shel reading “Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me Too” from Where the Sidewalk Ends, which is one of my daughter’s favorite poems. Enjoy.