Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Readers of A Light in the Attic quickly realize the value of complementary words and drawings, as Shel Silverstein uses both with incomparable facility to present his wry child’s-eye view of all subjects that matter. Silverstein explores topics from feeling left out (“Play Ball”) to bossiness (“Friendship”) to clowns who are not entertaining (“Cloony the Clown”) and bad attitudes (“Sour Face Ann”) with keen wit and deep appreciation for the importance of not taking oneself too seriously. His sense of humor runs the gamut of possibilities—sometimes dry, occasionally sardonic, at times outrageously nonsensical.

Silverstein’s illustrations complement his poems; rarely are they merely visual restatements of a poem’s message. Some yield additional information necessary for understanding the poem; all are as integral a part of Silverstein’s creation as the second voice in a duet. Readers of the poem “Surprise!” who wonder what Grandpa has sent back from India need only look at the elephant-shaped wooden box to guess. Occasionally, as in “Snake Problem,” in which a twenty-four-foot python uses his body to spell “I love you,” or “Quick Trip,” a poem about being eaten by the “quick-digesting Gink,” the meaning of the poem depends upon the drawing. One poem, “Union for Children’s Rights,” appears entirely in the signboards that a crowd of protesting children hold above their heads. “Buckin’ Bronco”...

(The entire section is 490 words.)