Posts Tagged ‘Sounder


Where the Sidewalk Ends

Among the multitude of books that  topped elementary reading lists where I attended grade-school, a select few titles have remained with me over the years. In most cases, they’re works that have navigated their way through decades of awards and accolades and become mainstays of the language arts curriculum. My personal favorites were the classic fictional novels about man’s best friends. To name a few–Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows, Sounder, and Shiloh.

Alongside the requirement that came with sitting around the carpeted  corner where my teacher took her perch on a stool with novel in hand, I did my share of leisurely reading. In those days, it was truly a habit that I did not have to trick myself into enjoying. Of course, my selections were far from academic.

Try these:

And I wasn’t the only one reading them. These series are so popular that they were all adapted into moderately successful seasons of television shows. Sure, they couldn’t come close to matching the excitement delivered by the imagination-inspiring text, but they were honest attempts to appeal to the masses of youth that enjoyed these books.

But there was one series, especially, that was near to my heart. Growing up, the work of  Sheldon Alan “Shel” Silverstein inspired my early love for poetry.  His was simple, engaging, funny, and odd. Something about his writing and accompanied illustrations seemed skewed in a way that rode the fine line between freakish and fascinating. And to make the whole package that much easier to digest–his poems read like short glimpses into the lives of the little characters he created and their unique predicaments. In the fourth and fifth grades, his three-part collection series of poems and illustrations were in constant rotation under my name at the school library.

They were equally hefty–coming in around 200 pages each.

Some poems were longer or more serious than others. I had a handful of personal favorites, but each time I checked the books out, I was always drawn to read them from cover to cover. Once I had finally reached the last poem and disappointingly flipped through each collection’s remaining blank pages, I always paused to examine the photograph of a man who had held my attention for what seemed like so much of my childhood. Something about Shel Silverstein’s appearance made his talents that much more intriguing to me.

I mean… The guy looks like a creep.

Of course, the thought first came to me when I was younger, but even today, he still doesn’t fit my mind’s image of a children’s writer. He looks more like a children catcher.

Thanks to good ‘ol wikipedia though, I learned today that Silverstein was much more than a poet and illustrator. He was also a singer-songwriter, musician, composer, cartoonist, and screenwriter, who claimed to have never seriously studied the work of any contemporaries when it came to his writing, which allowed him to develop a unique style.

Silverstein’s wiki-entry included this blurb by Otto Penzler, a collaborator who wrote about him in his crime anthology Murder for Revenge (1998):

“The phrase “Renaissance man” tends to get overused these days, but apply it to Shel Silverstein and it practically begins to seem inadequate. Not only has he produced with seeming ease country music hits and popular songs, but he’s been equally successful at turning his hand to poetry, short stories, plays, and children’s books. Moreover, his whimsically hip fables, beloved by readers of all ages, have made him a stalwart of bestseller lists. A Light in the Attic, most remarkably, showed the kind of staying power on the New York Times chart — two years, to be precise — that most of the biggest names (John Grisham, Stephen King, and Michael Crichton) have never equaled for their own blockbusters.

And there’s still more: his unmistakable illustrative style is another crucial element to his appeal. Just as no writer sounds like Shel, no other artist’s vision is as delightfully, sophisticatingly cockeyed.

One can only marvel that he makes the time to respond so kindly to his friends’ requests. In the following work, let’s be glad he did. Drawing on his characteristic passion for list making, he shows how the deed is not just in the wish but in the sublimation.”

If you are looking for fun poetry with style and soul and you missed out on these publications in grade-school, I would still encourage you to give them a read. They are just as great today as they were when they were first penned.

I’ve already said a lot. I’ll just let the man’s work speak for itself.

Thank you for your artistry, Mr. Silverstein(1930-1999).


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