Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Great Books Week, Part Deux

NAIWE's blog topic for today, in honor of Great Books Week, is: "When I was a child, my favorite book was… because…." I could fill pages (screens) with my love for Laura Ingalls, Betsey and Tacy, and, sigh, The Secret Language. But I'm going to modify the topic a bit and post a blog I wrote last year as a guest blogger for Engine Ed (for more discussion of children's books, check out Engine Ed's site). Let's call it, "now that I'm an adult, my favorite children's book is...because..."

I started reading chapter books when I was four years old, imagining myself putting on a show with Annie Oakley, sleeping on a bed of pine needles with the Boxcar Children, and traveling in a wagon with Ma and Pa Ingalls. When my boys were born, I couldn’t wait until they were old enough to enter magical fictional worlds . . . and I was devastated when they were uninterested. They’d spend hours with a snake encyclopedia or guide to rocks and minerals, but my attempts to engage them in Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh were met with yawns. And then my older son received a copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends for his 6th birthday. Thanks to Shel Silverstein and his perfect imagination, we read and laugh together nightly. To say that his poems are funny or interesting merely scratches the surface. Shel Silverstein had a gift for giving voice to topics that roll around silently in most kids’ brains and are dismissed by adults. Silly topics like belching (Rudy Felsh), scary topics like getting sucked down the bath drain (Skinny), and important topics, like how we’re all alike inside (No Difference). His poems address these topics without condescension, preaching, or advice—they have just the right amount of humor and irony. And though they seem silly at first, they often touch upon a deeper truth about how kids feel and think. A great example is the poem What a Day, which describes how it feels to have the weight of the world on your shoulders—a feeling many adults incorrectly assume is reserved only for grown-ups. Uncle Shelby writes: What a day/Oh what a day./My baby brother ran away/And now my tuba will not play./I’m eight years old and turning grey/Oh what a day/Oh what a day. Indeed.

I highly recommend this book, as well as his other poetry collections (A Light in the Attic, Runny Babbitt, etc.). I like to think of the poems as small bridges across the generation gap. Not only will you laugh, you’ll also remember what it’s like to be a child. And, if you’re like me, you just may find that the poems mirror your dreams and desires for your children. As Mr. Silverstein says:

Listen to the MUSTN’TS, child
Listen to the DON’TS
Listen to the SHOULDN’TS
Listen to the NEVER HAVES
hen listen close to me—
Anything can happen, child
ANYTHING can be.

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