Arts & Culture

Children’s Poetry: Prelutsky, Silverstein, Dr. Seuss

  Everyone knows Theodor Seuss Geisel’s poetry, written under the pen name of “Dr. Seuss.”  Beloved by many kids, teens, and even adults, Dr. Seuss has taken childrens’ books to a new level of creativity.  His work is so well loved that there is a museum dedicated solely to him and his art in Springfield, Massachusetts, where he was born.  “Editor in chief” for a humor magazine in college, Dr. Seuss drew and published cartoons, and had multiple books of his turned into movies both within his life span and afterwards.  After his death, Dr. Seuss’ wife helped produce Daisy-Head Mayzie, Horton Hears a Who!, and The Lorax.  

            Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham was started as a bet.  His editor didn’t think he could write a book with a vocabulary of fifty words.  What resulted was one of Seuss’s best known works. Below is an excerpt of Green Eggs and Ham

 

Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss

Do you like green eggs and ham? 

I do not like them, 

Sam-I-am. 

I do not like 

green eggs and ham. 

Would you like them 

here or there? 

I would not like them

here or there.

I would not like them 

anywhere. 

I do not like 

green eggs and ham. 

I do not like them, 

Sam-I am. 

            I grew up reading Shel Silverstein, who is still one of my favorite writers ever. Known for his quirky, imaginative style of writing, Silverstein never gets old.  Originally, Silverstein wanted to be a professional baseball player. But when he realized he was no good at it, he started drawing and writing. His first opportunity to publish his cartoons was in a military newspaper while he was serving in the U.S. army in Korea and Japan in the 1950s.  In 1981 he wrote A Light in the Attic and it became the first children’s book to make it on the New York Times Best Sellers list.  He also wrote the famous song A Boy Named Sue, which helped Johnny Cash immensely.  Silverstein didn’t like happy endings, hence the sometimes morbid endings The Giving Tree and some of his poems.  He believed that kids who read only stories with happy endings would think there was something wrong with them when they stopped feeling joyful.  He wrote a poem called Happy Ending?  that somewhat echoes this idea. 

 

Happy Ending? by Shel Silverstein 

There are no happy endings. 

Endings are the saddest part, 

So just give me a happy middle

And a very happy start. 

 

 

            Jack Prelutsky is a little less well known but still a fantastic poet.  He started trying for a career as an opera singer, but he had to give up that dream in order to pursue writing.  But, despite leaving music behind, he still incorporates it into his poetry in a whimsical way. He said once, when asked where he gets his ideas from, “Everywhere!  Everything I see or hear can become a poem. Several toys in my studio have turned into poems. I remember things that happened when I was a kid […] Or I write about things I like or don’t like.”  He has written over fifty children’s books and, unlike Shel Silverstein, who illustrated his books himself, Prelutsky has worked with many well known illustrators. One of my favorite poems of his is The Average Hippopotamus, which I’ve included below.  

 

The Average Hippopotamus by Jack Prelutsky

The average hippopotamus 

is big from top to bottomus, 

It travels at a trotamus, 

And swims when days are hotamus.  

 

Because it eats a lotamus,

It’s practically a yachtamus, 

So it’s a cinch to spotamus

The average hippopotamus. 

 

            One of the greatest things about children’s poetry is that, even if parents often read these poems to their kids at night, it doesn’t matter what age you are.  You can still enjoy this writing. Writing poetry for little kids can also be a lot of fun. Imagination is key and using made up words is always acceptable.  Rather than using lots of metaphors, you can truly explore the wildest phrasings from your imagination. So no matter how old you are, don’t be afraid to pick up a classic Dr. Seuss book or read some Jack Prelutsky.  After all, Dr. Seuss himself said, “I don’t write for children, I write for people. Once a writer starts talking down to kids, he’s lost. Kids can pick up on that kind of thing.” 

 

Works cited: 

The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum.  “Springfield Museams.”  https://springfieldmuseums.org/about/dr-seuss-museum/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI6Yyf9sDZ5wIVj5OzCh1gpQ8UEAAYASAAEgJeW_D_BwE  February 17, 2020 

Biography.com Editors.  “Dr. Seuss Biography.” Biography.com.  A&E Television Networks, April 2, 2014.  https://www.biography.com/writer/dr-seuss  February 17, 2020. 

“Green Eggs and Ham [Excerpt].”  Genius.  https://genius.com/Dr-seuss-green-eggs-and-ham-excerpt-annotated  February 17, 2020. 

“The Average Hippopotamus — (from MY DOG MAY BE A GENIUS).”  Jack Prelutsky.  http://jackprelutsky.com/jacks-poems/  February 17, 2020. 

“Jack Prelutsky.”  Poetry Foundation.  https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/jack-prelutsky  February 17, 2020. 

“About Jack.”  Jack Prelutsky.  http://jackprelutsky.com/bio/  February 17, 202.  

Petsko, Emily.  “8 Facts About Shel Silverstein.”  Mental Floss.  https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/572284/shel-silverstein-facts  February 17, 2020. 

 

Images: 

https://www.austinchronicle.com/daily/arts/2019-03-19/the-secret-art-of-dr-seuss-unveiled-at-ao5-gallery/

https://hunterdonartmuseum.org/portfolio-items/theater-camp-where-the-sidewalk-ends-new-ages-9-15/  

https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/books/the-new-kid-on-the-block-by-jack-prelutsky/ 

6 Comments

  1. Nice Job!!! (Back to the good ol’ days…)

  2. I still read Shel Silverstein…he’s not just for kids!

    • Thanks Abigail! And yes I still read Shel Silverstein all the time too! @ Emma Martin I even used his poem “Sick” for an audition monologue once 🙂

  3. aww nostalgia!! This is so amazing! “I do not like green eggs and ham Sam-I-Am” aww this made me choke up for real. You did such an amazing job on this! Keep writing more!!