Allison's Book Bag

Two Children’s Poetry Books

Posted on: October 12, 2013

Apparently, at least some of the poetry of John Ciardi and Shel Silverstein poems broke away from sweet and innocent tone expected of poems for children. Moreover, Silverstein sometimes used slang and profanity. Oh, and some of his line drawings are of naked butts. 🙂 Due to their unique subjects and quirky style, both Ciardi and Silverstein popped up during my searches for reading materials for my current round-up about misfit kids. Today I’m reviewing You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You by John Ciardi and A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein.

What did Ciardi have to say about misfit kids? There’s Jimmy James, who tried to run away to sea at age three, join the army at age four, catch a train at age five (and six and seven), rode a bus at age eight
. By which time, his parents were ready for him to leave and NOT come home. Which is what happened at age ten. Thanks to a certain beast who ate him. 🙂 There’s also a poem about frightful child, who ran wild and screamed all day. He finally turned good thanks to good parents. As for the boy who spilled ink in his dad’s shoe, he couldn’t forget what his dad told him. Nor could he sit. 😩 If you’re thinking that the majority of the kids in Ciardi’s poems are quickly reprimanded and punished, you’d be correct. Still, there is the poem about Sometimes I Feel This Way. Wherein the narrator admits to enjoying pranks such as putting sand in his brother’s shoe, gum on his sister’s bike, frogs in the sink, and salt in the tea pot. Even if he gets spanked, cries, and feels sad. Because between the one head that wants to be good and the one that wants to be bad, he doesn’t know which to pick, because “They are both some fun.”

To the best of my knowledge, Ciardi’s poetry is new to me. Some are deliciously daring such as About The Teeth of Sharks, where a boy is told to look further and further inside a shark’s mouth until: “Now look in and
. Look out! Oh my, I’ll never know now! Well, goodbye.” Others are sensibly smart such as The Wise Hen, where a hen took a walk with a fox but knew better than to accept an invitation to go home with him: “I will just get wet, And then get dry as best I can. So good day to you, sir. And away she ran.” You’ll notice that these are both animals. Besides Halloween, both domestic and wild critters were popular subjects. My cat and I especially liked how many poems were about felines. One even could have been a tribute to Lucy, talking about the cat who never knows its mind, one minute wanting outside and the next minute wanting in. My favorite poem is the most serious. Arvin Marvin Lillisbee Fitch is about a boy who rode his broomstick during his dreams, one day decided to keep his dreams a smaller size, which made them “beautiful but perhaps a little dull” and so led him to conclude “It was more fun when I dreamed high.” During my recent  book share, I took Ciardi’s poems to read aloud to my students and most of them eagerly listened.

Cover of "A Light in the Attic"

Cover of A Light in the Attic

What did Silverstein have to say about misfit kids? The Prayer of the Selfish Child is that if he dies before he wakes, “I pray the Lord my toys to break. So none of the other kids can use ’em.” In How Not to Have to Dry the Dishes, the narrator advises: “If you have to dry the dishes And you drop one on the floor Maybe they won’t let you dry the dishes anymore.” Despite these two examples, most of Silverstein’s relevant poems were actually more about kids, adults, and objects that simply didn’t fit in with their peers. There’s the boy whose family who will allow him only a hot dog, the girl who turns everything she touches into Jell-O, the adult babysitter who thinks she’s supposed to SIT on the baby, and the Frisbee who tires of sailing through the air, tries to find new things to do, but can’t get accepted as anything else. Finally, many of Silverstein’s poems boast about some of our darker interests such as a desire to meet monsters or sit next to a pirate.

In contrast to Ciardi, I encountered Silverstein’s most popular works not long after their publication. In rereading them for this review, what stood out most to me is how Silverstein relied on the unexpected. In the poem Shaking, Geraldine is told that shaking a cow is “the dumbest way I’ve seen to make a milk shake”. The narrator of the poem Messy Room scolds the owner for underwear hanging on the lamp, books jammed into a closet, lizard left sleeping on the bed…. and then realizes the room is HIS. 🙂 One of my favorites is Fancy Dive, which tells about Melissa of Coconut Grove who bounced, flew, twisted, twirled, flipped, spun, and more only to look down and see the pool had no water. Ouch! Something Missing is another poem that makes kids giggle. The narrator states that he remembered to put on his socks, his shoes, and his tie, but knows that something’s missing and, when one looks at the accompanying drawing, one sees that the narrator hasn’t put on his pants. Yikes! Even teachers should appreciate Silverstein, due to the educational nature of such poems as Importnt in which the letter A points out all the words which need his presence, Ations in which the narrator plays with words ending in “ation,” and Fly in which prepositions are taught. Math isn’t forgotten either, with all the basic shapes being covered in a poem simply titled Shapes. As with Ciardi’s collection, there are delightfully daring poems within Silverstein’s collection such as Bear in There, where a boy keeps a polar bear in his fridge. There are also sensibly smart ones such as What If, which covers all those questions that keep ones awake at night. There are too many other wise ones to name, as this is a collection of over one hundred poems, but I can’t neglect the sweetest of them. The Little Boy and The Old Man tells of the ways that a little boy feels out-of-place, which match up with the ways that old men often feel out-of-place too.

Sadly, my copies of Silverstein’s books went to my siblings. Sometimes I miss those copies, especially given the huge popularity of Silverstein among elementary students. I enjoyed the opportunity to reread one of Silverstein’s collections as part of my current round-up, as well as discovering Ciardi for the first time. What are your favorite children’s poems?

My rating? Read them: Carry them with you. Make them a top priority to read.

How would you rate these books?

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