Shel Silverstein's A Light in the Attic
Book review by Daniela Chamorro Mantica
If you think you don't enjoy poetry, it's because you haven't read this book yet. The rhymes are simple, almost Seussian, and the ideas and situations explored in the poems are inventive and fresh.
Is it for kids? I suppose, but that doesn't stop me from flipping through the book when it's around. If there's anything we can say for sure, it's that children's literature has never been just for kids.
With A Light in the Attic, Shel Silverstein makes sure we can say the same thing about children's poetry.
Many of the poems are delightful, bite-sized fun. Others are slightly more epic tales, some featuring original characters like Backward Bill and a Meehoo With an Exactlywatt.
A lot of the Attic poems evoke a child's mentality: breaking all the dishes to get out of doing them, selling your sister, using a Homework Machine, and praying that if you die all your toys break so nobody else can use them.
Other poems give us an insight into problems even adults can identify with: a long list of physical exercises ending with "guess I'll go upstairs and lie down again," or playing Hurk instead of going to work ("What's Hurk? I don't know, but it must be better than work").
Some poems are fantastical, like animals that talk and traffic lights that "turn blue with orange and lavender spots" or devils who want to borrow your bike.
And more than a few poems are surprisingly (or not that surprisingly) deep and beautiful, speaking of frozen dreams, happy middles, and good days ("How much good inside a day? Depends how good you live 'em").
This particular balance of real and imagined, childish and adult, fun and serious, means you never know what the next page will hold, exactly. Chances are, though, it will make you think, make you laugh, make you wish you'd thought of it yourself.
The poems are just the half of it. Every poem and page comes with a
corresponding image, drawn by Silverstein himself, that only adds to the
poem itself. The characters' plights and adventures are only enhanced
by the simple but effective drawings. Their limbs twist around their
bodies, trees grow out of their heads, they talk to zebras, and they
balance "everything" on their hot-dog-with-everything-on-it.
Shel Silverstein takes his own advice to "put something silly in the world that wasn't there before" with A Light in the Attic, and much more as well.
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