Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A childhood without Shel Silverstein?

Do you remember Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout?

If your answer to that question was: "She would not take the garbage out!" then you grew up with the children's writer Shel Silverstein. My classmates and I used to memorize Silverstein's poems, pass his books around like they were the holy grail, scream lines from them across the playground.

Shel Silverstein is the author American classics like THE GIVING TREE, WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS and A LIGHT IN THE ATTIC. His stories and poetry are wacky and funny, but also sweet and even thought-provoking. I used to teach persuasive writing by asking my secondary school students to write thesis-statements about THE GIVING TREE.

So imagine my shock (even horror) to learn that Brits did not grow up with Shel Silverstein. Most Brits have never even heard of Shel Silverstein.

In my own very small way, I tried to remedy that earlier this month when my class discussed children's poetry. My classmates brought in several wonderful examples, including Robert Louis Stevenson's A CHILD'S GARDEN OF VERSES; T.S Eliot's "Macavity-The Mystery Cat" and Roald Dahl's REVOLTING RHYMES (Do take note of the ages of the poems we shared; our class discussed the severe lack of modern poetry published, especially for children). Our teacher shared CURTAINS by Matt Harvey, which I thoroughly enjoyed (if you follow the link, you can watch him read it aloud!).

I couldn't limit myself to just one, so I bought in two Shel Silverstein's poems: "Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out" (follow the link to see the poem is its entirety) and "Hug O' War" (see below):

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.

"Hug O' War" is borrowed from Where the Sidewalk Ends: the poems & drawings of Shel Silverstein, published by Harper & Row Junior Books, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, N.Y. 10022. Copyright © 1974 by Evil Eye Music, Inc.



  1. Anne,
    There is some very nice modern poetry being published for children in the US. We have a poet who is on VCFA faculty, which adds a lot to our residencies.
    Please check out these poets:
    Julie Larios, Joyce Sidman, David McCord, Karla Kuskin, Douglas Florian, Kris George, Alice Schertle, Marilyn Nelson, Valerie Wortz.

    If you want, I can give you links to some blogs, that can give you more info. I've never tried my hand at poetry (looks really hard) but I love reading poetry, especially poetry for kids.

  2. Oooh, I'm so glad to hear this, and so happy you posted these names! I'll have to spend some time reading poetry today!

    Writing children's poetry scares me, too, but I have complete respect for those who can do it.

  3. I'm so surprised that Silverstein isn't known in the UK since people think of him as the epitome of children's poetry in the US. Though I love his work (and Jack Prelutsky is similarly great) I do think it tends to overshadow some of the other poetry out there for children. I wish there was a wider range of the poetry children were exposed to, but a lot of adults tend to be a bit scared of poetry.

  4. It surprises me, too. I'm not quite sure why--surely the translation issues aren't that problematic. Some of my instructors have stumbled across him and love him.
    It is a shame kids don't get exposed to more poetry. I think you're right about adults being scared of it. But so many kids seem to love the rhythm and rhyme.

  5. I am frequently appalled the other way. I grew up (in the US) on Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses. But many other Americans seem unfamiliar with it. I think part of the problem may be how (or how much) it is taught in schools. Parents will usually expose you to what they are familiar with; schools broaden your horizons. - Jennifer M.

  6. Course, nowadays teachers are frequently told exactly what and when and for how long they need to teach subjects. But don't get me started on that.


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