One of my favorite poet/illustrators is Shel Silverstein (1930-1999). I find his rhymes and accompanying drawings delightful. They were enjoyed by my husband’s elementary school students and by our five kids, and adults and children alike.
Not only did he write poems and draw illustrations and cartoons, he also composed songs and wrote plays.
Preparing to write this article, I could only find two volumes of his in my well-organized (—not!) library: The Giving Tree and A Light in the Attic. I’m sure we had more; who knows where they went.
The Giving Tree is a picture book. It tells the story of a tree who loves a boy and over the years gives herself to him completely. I interpret it as a metaphor for mothering.
A Light in the Attic is a collection of poetry. I’m sure we also had Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends. As someone who writes poetry and most often defaults to free verse, I am impressed by the quality of Silverstein’s rhymes. Sometimes he takes liberties (like rhyming water with oughtter), but the rhymes never feel forced or contrived.
Silverstein’s whimsical illustrations remind me a bit of Dr. Suess, in that they are in turns amusing and a little nightmarish.
I remember three of his songs in particular, though I forgot (if I ever even knew) that he wrote them. “A Boy Named Sue” earned him a Grammy.
That one and this one, “The Unicorn,” got way too much airtime during my high school years. (Enough to almost make me think unicorns are dorky. Almost, but not quite.)
One song I love and that I sang with my kindergarten students when I taught music:
His work remains popular today. The Shel Silverstein website has resources for teachers to inspire their student poets, writers, and artists.