One of my favorite children’s books, the madcap Lafcadio: The Lion Who Shot Back (1963), by SHEL SILVERSTEIN (1930-99), is about loneliness, friendship, and the perils of too much success — all of which turn out to be common themes in Silverstein’s work. The giddy silliness and attention to rhyming detail of Where the Sidewalk Ends, A Light in the Attic, and his other subversive books for children demonstrate that Silverstein stayed in touch with his inner grade-schooler. But what blows your mind is everything else he did, from traveling the world on Playboy’s dime, to skewering American attitudes in one-act plays like The Lady and the Tiger, capturing the stubborn hope of a shackled prisoner still ready to whisper “Psst, now here’s my plan” to his fellow cartoonified inmate, and penning songs that run the gamut from wistful reflection (“I Can’t Touch the Sun,” “The Ballad of Lucy Jordan,” “The Things I Didn’t Say”) to knowing perversion (“Get My Rocks Off,” “Freaking at the Freakers Ball”) to chronicling the trappings of fame (“Cover of the Rolling Stone,” “Sure Hit Songwriter’s Pen”). Like Lafcadio, Silverstein — who died in bed, surrounded by unfinished projects — refused to abide anyone’s expectations, categories, or labels.
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