Read the blog, or enjoy the audio version below:
Where The Sidewalk Ends, there’s A Light In the Attic that has a Giving Tree, Falling Up with Every Thing On It
"Shel Silverstein name droppin' Twitter in 1981 (@jack)" by dpstyles™ is licensed under CC BY 2.0
I have written about children's books before. From Dinkleboos, to making up stories, to how my toddler would not let me employ accents (update: yep, still forbidden), I know a thing or two about kids' books. They are colorful. They are fun. They are far too expensive and require a choice between them, or food, shelter and heat. Here I take a page (get it?) from Brian Regan, reading from a children’s book:
The Clock! (flips page)
The Big Clock! (flips page)
Tick-tock! (flips page)
The End. (flips to end cover and looks on back)
Yessir. Too expensive. I grant you, they may have bright colors and lots of zoo animals, but if they require that by purchasing them I will need to forego Taco Bell just so my sons can see some zebras and chimpanzees, then illiteracy it is. Lots of kids spell it k-a-t. My boys will be fine. Heck, at least their tummies will be full of authentic Mexican food that is not authentic and is not Mexican.
I am joking. In all seriousness, I deeply cherish the works of Shel Silverstein. They are drenched in wonder. Partaking in them feels like drinking from the fire hydrant of amusement. Starting in 1963 with The Giving Tree, he instantly established himself as a unique artist with a singular wit and enduring charm. Following this were hits like A Light In The Attic, Where The Sidewalk Ends, and Falling Up. The chicken-scratch drawings and short, thought-provoking poems encapsulated in his multitude of books – I think there may be three-thousand and ninety-seven because I keep finding new ones – still amuse and delight me at age 48 as much as they did at age 8.
In fact, I have now taken to reading them to my 5-year-old. Just not in any kind of accent, as I need to remind you again that that is expressly forbidden. If I do so, I will be placed on time-out until my arms grow back from the imaginary monster that he sicks on me for violating this edict.
Shelling Out For Shel
Recently I acquired a murder of Shel Silverstein books. I would have used the word “smorgasbord”, but I believe that if one can use “murder” to describe a large quantity of crows, then I think it is only fair that I am able to use it here. Purchasing them certainly slayed my wallet and spared no spare cash.
Why did I buy all of these books? Because my children beg me for things. They also practice the dark arts, and cast a powerful purchasing spell that I am unable to resist. But I do not think I would want to: these book are all too enthralling. Within each book, it is as if there are thousands of little micro-books. Hilarious short stories that are as eclectic and different from one another as Michael and Latoya Jackson. What? People constantly drew comparisons between them. The simple fact remains that LaToya is alive, and Michael is not. Therefore, they are eclectic and different. I would like to move on now if that is alright with you.
You know these great short stories from Shel:
- Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout who would not take the garbage out
- The Yippiyuk
- The Flying Boy
- The Bloath
- The Glurpy Slurpy Skakagrall who is standing right behind you
- The boy trying to sell his little sister
- Terrible Theresa who wants the middle pancake
- Peggy Ann McKay who is not sick after all once she finds out it is Saturday
- The chicken who will not hatch
- Hug O’War
- Hungry Mungry
- The martians from The Planet of Mars
- Writing on the neck of a running giraffe
- The poet writing a poem from inside a lion
- Paul Bunyan
- Mrs. McTwitter The Baby Sitter
- The Silly Young King and the Peanut-butter Sandwich
- How not to have to dry the dishes
- The sharp-toothed snail inside your nose
- Captain Hook
- The Zoootch
The list goes on and on…and on. And on. These books are worth far more than twelve bucks, and are the best children’s books that I have ever purchased, save perhaps books from Dinkleboo. Aside from being a cool name that sounds like a ghost peeing, Dinkleboo books are incredibly personalized and adorable. Their only drawback is that because the child's name is intentionally peppered throughout the books, they tend to feed a necessary narcissism. I challenge all voice actors to say necessary narcissism ten times fast.
Why do I love Mr. Silverstein's books so? Just a quick accidental glance at one of his book covers on a shelf whisks me back to elementary school in the valley in 1980. They are intriguing and captivating: they allow me to tell stories and make my son's eyes widen. They also further my apparent genius status with him. With Brennan, they cause him to look up at me and smile when he comprehends each story's meaning. Shel Silverstein had a rare gift of being able to encapsulate everything from life on earth into a single stanza: fun, concise, stirring, and memorable. Reading them, I finally understand what Shania Twain has been singing about.
Bringing life to words: is that not our job as storytellers?
AWAKEN, thou Script!
Granted, we do not write; we recite. But we do not have to set pen to paper (for those of you who live in 1927) or fingers to keys in order to unlock creativity.
We have everything we need within us to bring a script to life. To humanize words. To speak powerful life into dead print on a page. We can employ the same creativity that Shel had, just...spoken rather than written. We can command those consonants and vowels to spring into action, to assemble (Avengers-style, no less): ready to do battle against drudgery and disinterest.
It is our sacred duty to infuse color into the black-on-white scripts that we read. That is precisely what I talk about in my latest book, “Voiceovers: A Super Responsibility.” I do not want this blog to get all salesy, but you should go ahead and buy eight copies immediately while I wait.
Welcome back, and please provide your complete shipping address.
We are not run-of-the-mill voice talent who simply recite. That is not what we are paid to do. We do not perform voiceovers with our mouth.
We perform them with our soul. Just like Shel did with his poetry.
So here is your question: what power and soul do you bring to your scripts?
Have a great week. For me, I plan to continue to save lots of twelve bucks for the next Shel Silverstein installments. Until the next one, it is time to watch a murder of humans on TV.
*thinks to self*
I think I will also pledge to use more appropriate descriptors for large quantities of things.
I am Joshua Alexander, and I approve this message.
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