Discover Shel Silverstein



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Shel Silverstein, known to most of us as a children’s writer, through his most popular book, “The Giving Tree”, was a very versatile creator – a poet, a singer, a songwriter, a cartoonist and a screenwriter. In the recent past, I have been getting addicted to his writing. I want more and more and more of it. Here are some of his books “meant for children” and my take on them.

1. The Giving Tree

Must-read
The Giving Tree - Shel Silverstein

The first book of Shel Silverstein which I read is “The Giving Tree”, which is also the most popular. It is the story of the relationship between a tree and a small boy. The tree loves the boy and the boy uses the tree for playing.

As the boy grows older, the love of the tree for the boy deepens and with each visit, the boy demands and gets something from the tree. The book ends with the remaining trunk of the tree giving itself happily to the boy — who is now an old man — for him to sit and relax.

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  1. The first aspect that struck me even before I could finish the book was the illustrations. Simple and brilliant.

! ! !

  1. The story line, hidden behind the exterior of a children’s book, presents quite a few philosophical points worth musing about: about giving and receiving, about selfishness and selflessness, about the selfishness in receiving and the selfishness (yes) in giving.
  2. I am uncertain about this book as a children’s book. There is no wordplay, fantasy, sound effects, imagination and other devices usually associated with a book meant for children. Elder children above 10 can probably make the best use of this book by exploring some of the questions hidden in it with the guidance of a parent/teacher.

Give and be happy.

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2. Uncle Shelby’s ABZ Book

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Uncle Shelby’s ABZ Book - Shel Silverstein

“Uncle Shelby’s ABZ Book” is meant to be an alphabet book for children. According to the tagline, it is “a primer for tender young minds by Shel Silverstein who loves you dearly”.

Starting with the alphabet AB-ZDEFGHI-KJ-ML-NOPQRS-VU-TWXY-C exactly in that order, Shel Silverstein, in a deft combination of clever and wicked writing, introduces each letter (almost), apparently to the young minds that are reading the book. Gently prodding and persuading the child reader to do all the things that he ought not to do, this book provides a humorous read for the adult.

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  1. An excellent example of subversive writing. What a wicked sense of humour he has! If ‘G’ is for Gigolo and ‘S’ is for Spit, you can imagine what a riot the book is!
  2. Fortunately, the books comes with a label “A primer for adults only” on its cover.

. . .

  1. Parts of the book were written for a column for the Playboy magazine in 1961. Two other compilations of a similar kind are “Uncle Shelby’s Kiddie Corner”(1965) and “Uncle Shelby’s Scout Handbook” (1964).

For the mischievous child in an adult.

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3. A Giraffe and a Half

Worth-a-read
A Giraffe and a Half - Shel Silverstein

“A Giraffe and a Half” is an accumulative poem which starts with a giraffe who stretches a half and accumulates several objects. Eventually it manages to get rid of these to end up as a giraffe. A silly and simple poem targeted at children for stimulating their visual imagery.

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  1. The silliness of it all and the simplicity.
  2. Brilliant illustrations to match the verbal overflow.
  3. After reading the “ABZ Primer”, it is really heartening to find that the book is safe for children.

A silly, but safe giraffe.

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4. Lafcadio: The Lion Who Shot Back

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Lafcadio: The Lion Who Shot Back - Shel Silverstein

Uncle Shelby’s story of “Lafcadio: The Lion who Shot Back” is a novel for young readers. It is the story of a young lion without a name who encounters a hunter in the forest, acquires a gun from him and practices to become a sharp-shooter.

When Finchfinger, the circus man comes to the forest and convinces him to join the circus in return for marshmallows, he decides to go to the city. On reaching the city, he gets a bath and makeover and at this point, meets Uncle Shelby. He is christened Lafcadio and gradually, he becomes more and more like a man. He performs in the circus and goes on to make money and fame.

Eventually he goes with his human friends for hunting and meets a lion from his past. He is unable to decide at this point whether he is a lion or a man.

This is Silverstein’s first book for children and I thoroughly enjoyed this book at many levels.

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  1. The story line is one of big imagination. Good setting for a children’s story.
  2. At the risk of sounding repetitive, I have to mention the simple, yet illustrative sketches that are found all through the book. The one where the hotel rooms and customers are shown as the lion goes up and down the elevator held me in awe.
  3. The verbal wordplay that appears scattered through the book makes it interesting. For instance, the discussion about where the lions run “clippety-clop” or “pippety-pat” and the blended words like “defiposolutely” or “absoposidefinitely“.
  4. The undercurrent of subtle humour that runs through the book

    Well, now, the lions didn’t hear him coming until the very last minute because, although lions have very good ears and they can hear things from far off, if their ears are washed that is, but if their ears aren’t washed, they can’t hear much better than you can, and to tell you the truth, I don’t think lions wash their ears very often because washrags are very hard to get in the jungle and soap costs ten cents and most lions don’t  have ten cents and even if they did they couldn’t buy a bar of soap because who would sell a bar of soap to a lion?

    Expect the unexpected in every line..

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You heard our opinion – take them or thrash them, now we’d like to hear yours.


Product information:

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Amazon (Worldwide) Flipkart
[amazon text=Hardcover&asin=1846143837]
[amazon text=Kindle edition&asin=B00DB2QZPI]
Hardcover
Title The Giving Tree
Author and Illustrator
Shel Silverstein
Language English
Genre Children, Philosophy
Age(s) 4+
Publisher Penguin UK
Publication year 2010
ISBN-10
ISBN-13
1846143837
978-1-846-14383-0

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Amazon (Worldwide) Flipkart
[amazon text=Paperback&asin=067121148X] Paperback
Title Uncle Shelby’S ABZ Book
Author and Illustrator
Shel Silverstein
Language English
Genre Satire
Age(s) 18+
Publisher Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group
Publication year 1985
ISBN-10
ISBN-13
067121148X
978-0-671-21148-6

Product information:

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Amazon (Worldwide) Flipkart
[amazon text=Hardcover&asin=0060256559] Paperback
Title A Giraffe and a Half
Author and Illustrator
Shel Silverstein
Language English
Genre Children
Age(s) 2+
Publisher HarperCollins Childrens Books
Publication year 1964
ISBN-10
ISBN-13
0060256559
978-0-060-25655-5

Product information:

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Amazon (Worldwide) Flipkart
[amazon text=Hardcover&asin=0060256753] Paperback
Title Lafcadio, the Lion Who Shot Back
Author and Illustrator
Shel Silverstein
Genre Children
Age(s) 8+
Publisher Harpercollins
Publication year 2013
ISBN-10
ISBN-13
0060256753
978-0-060-25675-3

Book Details:

Title
Editor(s)/Author(s)/Illustrator(s)/Translator(s) Shel Silverstein
Publisher HarperCollins, Penguin UK, Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group

About Menaka S

Menaka is a computational linguist by education, an optimist by attitude and a dreamer by how she spends her time. Being left-brained, she runs PlusMinus'n'More to indulge her right brain interests.

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