Make Your Own Magic! Says Shel Silverstein

03/20/2012

Today I’m waxing nostalgic, and the subject is Shel Silverstein. In preparation for my nephew’s 6th birthday, I made a stop at the bookstore to revisit the classic, Where the Sidewalk Ends, and to weigh whether it was the right time to introduce him to the unique world of Shel Silverstein…

After finding myself nestled on the floor among the aisles of the kids section totally engrossed in his books, I came home with two copies – one for my nephew, and one for me!

I have great memories of bedtimes spent reading Silverstein with my Dad. My favorites as a kid were the more silly rhymes – “Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me Too” and their flying shoe, the “Peanut-Butter Sandwich” about the creepy looking king whose mouth gets stuck shut from too much peanut butter, and the boy being eaten by a “Boa Constrictor.”

MAGIC
By Shel Silverstein, from Where the Sidewalk Ends

Sandra’s seen a leprechaun,
Eddie touched a troll,
Laurie danced with witches once,
Charlie found some goblins’ gold.
Donald heard a mermaid sing,
Susy spied an elf,
But all the magic I have known
I’ve had to make myself.

The catalyst for my rediscovery came after I stumbled across Silverstein’s biography at a used bookstore – A Boy Named Shel: The Life and Times of Shel Silverstein, by Lisa Rogak. It’s a story of an amazing life lived according to only his own rules. Now reading his work as an adult, I found other poems to love. Poems that were chock full of insight into human nature. Magic (above), My Rules, and The Voice below were two of my favorites.

MY RULES
By Shel Silverstein, from Where the Sidewalk Ends

If you want to marry me, here’s what you’ll have to do:
You must learn how to make a perfect chicken-dumpling stew.
And you must sew my holey socks,
And soothe my troubled mind,
And develop the knack for scratching my back,
And keep my shoes spotlessly shined.
And while I rest you must rake up the leaves,
And when it is hailing and snowing
You must shovel the walk … and be still when I talk,
And – hey – where are you going?

THE VOICE
By Shel Silverstein, from Falling Up

There is a voice inside of you
That whispers all day long,
“I feel that this is right for me,
I know that this is wrong.”
No teacher, preacher, parent, friend
Or wise man can decide
What’s right for you – just listen to
The voice that speaks inside.


I had no idea his books were ever controversial or that his life was so unconventional, even a little scandalous. I also had no idea that he was a songwriter (including country music) and a playwright, that he wrote travelogues for Playboy, the magazine that gave him his start, or that he was a nomad who shuttled between multiple tiny homes across the country. He was also known as quite a ladies man, despite his odd looks and complete lack of desire to settle down with one woman.

Quotes from Silverstein in A Boy Named Shel: The Life and Times of Shel Silverstein:

“When people are sitting around and some oddball walks in who’s dressed atrociously, they’ll say, ‘Wow, look at that!’ But they’re delighted to have it because someone has brought something new and fresh into their buttoned-down world,” … “Don’t you think you owe that to other people, to bring them a little bit of excitement, something goofy and strange?”

“Comfortable shoes and the freedom to leave are the two most important things in life.”

Knowing more about his life adds a completely different layer to his work, emphasizing the subversive, and making me love it even more as an adult. Talk about marching to the beat of your own drum! It’s an influence I’m happy to sow in my own life and those of my loved ones.

There should always be a place in our lives for questioning the status quo and realizing that it’s up to you to make your own magic, according to your own rules.


More info: check out Shel Silverstein’s Unlikely rise to Kid Lit Superstardom, by mental_floss
Photo: from Wikipedia, Where the Sidewalk Ends

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Jenn March 20, 2012 at 11:58 am

Love this! I totally read the poems out loud and smiled. Thanks for sharing!

Angela March 21, 2012 at 7:18 am

Glad to hear it! Having his books around again and reading them from time to time has made me smile a lot too! I don’t normally like sites with lots of animation, but check out his official site – http://shelsilverstein.com/play.asp. When you click on each of his books, there’s an animation of one of his poems… Loved the one for Where the Sidewalk Ends! It’s cool to hear his voice and inflections too. :)

Aunt Claire March 23, 2012 at 10:07 am

I used many of his poems in my school programs as bridges between groups of songs, or grade levels. I could always find something to go with the theme. Having children read them fro the audience was quite effective .

Keep writing & reading!

Angela March 30, 2012 at 9:02 pm

I love that! His poems combined with songs would definitely make a great music program! So fun.

Brian April 9, 2012 at 12:32 pm

Thanks for the reminder about Shel, a childhood favorite of mine. I remember fondly reading all his books, and even listening to a lot of his poems on tape (he performs them in an amazing way!). I even remember memorizing one of his poems and reciting it during the morning announcements in kindergarden.

When I was in Japan last summer looking through a book store I found ‘The Missing Piece’ in Japanese. I just had to buy it for my mother, who used to teach children’s literature and maintains a large collection of books. What I came to appreciate even more about his work when seeing it in another language was that his illustrations could tell the whole story, even if you couldn’t read it.

Angela May 18, 2012 at 6:34 am

Glad you liked it! How cool to see The Missing Piece in Japanese. I can easily imagine his illustrations transcending language – not to mention his message. And, I love that book. In some ways it’s so unsatisfying when you come to the end, but that’s exactly the point. Very adult, disguised as a children’s book, like so much of his work!