Past masters: “Uncle Shelby’s A B Z Book” by Shel SilversteinPosted: October 6, 2011
I no longer can start my day without the transcendent, exquisite blog authored by Girl On The Contrary (or GOTC, as we fawning fanboys know her). If this were a just world she and I would sit together at the table each morning and she would read it to me over a breakfast of Grand Marnier French toast, Scottish smoked salmon, figs and cream with hazelnut syrup, freshly pressed Kopi Luwak coffee… and a bowl of Cap’n Crunch. Part of this complete breakfast. I’d smile beatifically at her and chuckle ardently over the parts I’d hear above the Crunch of the Cap’n. Such would be my devotion. But this isn’t a just world. Yet.
I digress. (Keep off digress! Goldang kids…)
What solidified my dedication to the contrary girl was a recent post wherein she revealed her love for the works of the estimable Shel Silverstein. She reviewed “Every Thing On It,” a just-published collection of not-yet-released poems and drawings.
Instantly I was catapulted back to grade 10, where my friend Randy Mikkelsen (read his blog, folks, it’s awesome) introduced me to Shel. Well, not literally (neither the catapulting nor the introduction). He lent me his copy of “Uncle Shelby’s A B Z Book,” Shel’s first original collection from back in 1961. I was amazed. This was a subversive work. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that it helped shape my early moral judgments.
I hadn’t even heard Shel’s name before that introduction. I had heard “The Unicorn” and “A Boy Named Sue” on the radio, “Boa Constrictor” sung in the schoolyard, and “Cover Of The Rolling Stone” hadn’t yet been recorded, and even so I hadn’t a clue that he had anything to do with any of them.
Wikipedia has this to say:
First published in 1961, it is sometimes described as “subversive.” The cover on some editions of the book read “A primer for adults only” while other editions read “A primer for tender young minds” instead. Much of the humor derives from a cynical drive to give the reader misleading, harmful advice.
Subversive indeed, in an empowering way for adolescents figuring out that what they were told as kids was not necessarily reliable. Examples tell the story better than I can.
“W” is for wish. Do you want to get your wish?
When your tooth falls out, put it under your pillow and make a wish. In the morning the tooth will be gone and there will be a shiny new dime under the pillow.
OK, now you have 10¢. How can you get $3.20?
– – –
“R” is for red. The fire is red. The fire engine is red. The fireman’s hat is red.
Does the fireman in the red hat come to your house in his red fire engine? No?
Too bad the fireman only goes to places where there is a fire.
– – –
“H” is for hole. See the hole. The hole is deep. You can bury things in the hole.
See the toaster. You can bury the toaster in the hole.
See the car keys. You can bury the car keys in the hole.
See Grandma’s teeth. See Daddy’s shoe. See Mommy’s diamond ring.
Oh-oh – – – little sister* sees you burying things in the hole. Maybe she will snitch on you and you will get a licking.
What else can you bury in the hole…..?*
– – –
“K” is for kidnapper. See the nice kidnapper. The kidnapper has a lollipop.
The kidnapper has a keen car. The car can go fast.
Tell the nice kidnapper that your daddy has lots of money. Then maybe he will let you ride in his car.
Subsequently I shared it with my best friend John, and he shared it with other friends, and so on and so on. Soon we all would recite long passages of it to one another, like secret passwords in the Underground Resistance. In much later life I have bestowed it as gifts to many, many new parents, more than I can count.
Later in life I enjoyed Shel’s more conventional works such as “Lafcadio, The Lion Who Shot Back,” and “The Giving Tree,” and “The Missing Piece,” and “A Light In The Attic,” and “Where The Sidewalk Ends,” and many many more. But my introduction to Shel remains my favorite of his many creative works.
So again I must thank that lovely contrarian for allowing me this trip in the Way-Back Machine. I hope to return the favor some day.