Dr. Seuss is one of the most beloved authors in children’s lit, and his popularity seems to grow with each generation. The Cat in the Hat is often used as a beginner book for kids learning to read, but somehow, as adults, we still see the beauty of its simple, inventive approach to storytelling. I’m sure you’re using books by Dr. Seuss to introduce your little one into the world of reading. What parent wouldn’t? The word play captures children from the get-go, and the subtle moral lessons are woven into the story, almost subverting kids’ natural reluctance to receive such information.
At the other end of the spectrum is the work of Shel Silverstein. An equally playful wordsmith, Silverstein has a slightly darker view of things. His works Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic are chock-full of poems that make you laugh while nudging you to maybe even view the world from a different perspective. It always seemed as if Silverstein understood the inner workings of a child’s mind. There are poems for almost every emotion, fear or thought that a kid can possibly have.
By introducing your kid to Shel Silverstein, you’re essentially picking up where Seuss left off. Quirky poems. Witty humor. Life lessons. Any weird, awkward thoughts your child ever has, Silverstein probably wrote a poem about it. For example, if your child is in a particularly curious mood, full of questions and inquiry, just read the poem “Whatif.” Many questions will be answered, and more will blossom.
Many of Silverstein’s poems reach beyond eccentric and quite a few even had me scratching my head when I was younger, but if it weren’t for the weirdness, Silverstein’s poems could easily have been lumped in with the thousands upon thousands of other mediocre poems in the genre. Have a look at “Ticklish Tom.” Go on. Read it.
Or listen to it …
It might take a minute or two for a kid to catch on to what just happens, but the rewards are plentiful. Reflect on what Silverstein might be saying here. On the surface, the poem is about being ticklish, but dig a litter deeper, and you could say that the poem is about finding a balance in life between taking things too seriously or — not seriously at all.
Isn’t that the way a kid’s — and, really, an adult’s — life should be (most of the time, anyway)?
Seuss and Silverstein aren’t the only authors a parent should read to their children, but honestly, if they were the only children’s authors to grace us with their imaginations, we and our children — and their children’s children — would be the better for it.