Monday, January 20, 2014

Inspiration Monday: Shel Silverstein

If you are a dreamer, come in.
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer . . .
If you're a pretender, come sit by my fire,
For we have some flax golden tales to spin.
Come in!
Come in!

Once a month on this blog, my plan is to take a break from showing my own progress on the book, but rather post about something or someone who has inspired me to create it in the first place. It seems appropriate to start with Shel Silverstein. When I try to describe verbally to people what kind of book I'm writing, I usually end up saying "You know, a Shel-Silverstein-type-of-book."  ("You know, for kids!")  At times this comment is met with a reassuring nod, but also, more often than I expect, this comment is met with a blank stare that says 'who?'  It seems at times that less people grew up with his books than I ever realized, which is surprising and unfortunate.

I was probably about 6 or 7 (the same age my daughter is now) when my mom first introduced me to Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic. She loved these books and knew I would love them too. I also have a specific vivid memory from this time, of sitting on my front porch and asking my friend & neighbor Lydia (who was only a few years older than me) to read some of the poems with me, and we both had some great laughs. Those books stayed with me until they fell apart, and it wasn't until the last few years that I have managed to re-claim fresh new copies of my own. Now I am reading them to my own kids, and that experience is so wonderful I can hardly describe it.

What I love most about Shel Silverstein's work is that he is so diverse...from page to page, each poem and drawing presents a surprise. All at once he can be clever, silly, sad, dark, cynical, hopeful, heartfelt, and oftentimes downright naughty. (He did hang out with rock musicians, after all...)  As a whole, Shel Silverstein is fearless.  He's not afraid of disturbing you or unsettling you, and he's not afraid of writing, on many occasions and always with a great dose of poignancy, about God. I come back to his work again and again, to be humbled, re-ignited, and inspired. No matter what he wrote about, you always got the sense that he was inviting you into his world and to participate in his creative process, that he was speaking directly to you, as a true storyteller and a friend...a friend who was a little rough around the edges (the photos of him on the back of his books always freaked me out a bit), but someone you could trust to walk with you into the dark.

After I had already started working on my book, I picked up a copy of his latest posthumous collection, Everything On It, and was rather struck by the challenge that his last poem presented to me:

When I am gone what will you do?
Who will write and draw for you?
Someone smarter - someone new?
Someone better - maybe YOU!

I don't even want to pretend that what I'm doing holds a candle to what this gentle giant achieved with his artistry, but this kind invitation gives me faith that I am, at the very least, in good hands when I stand on his shoulders.


  1. What nice memories, Ken! Yes, Silverstein is so varied - I remember having my mind blown as an adult when I realized he'd also written Boy Named Sue and Cover of the Rolling Stone. May his challenge spur you on!