Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Runny Babbit by Shel Silverstein

Runny Babbit by Shel Silverstein

Rating: 5 stars

Once upon a time, a long long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I sat in a hotel lobby in Seattle, Washington, listening to some former Peace Corps Volunteers talk about the country they had served in, which was the same country to which I was traveling to the very next day: Thailand.  The language is crazy! they said.  It is so different!  It is so difficult!  All you can do, they said, is have fun with it.

Before that moment, my idea of attacking something difficult included putting on a ridiculously serious face, giving it my all, and being really hard on myself if I didn't get it right (the first time, of course).  Luckily for me, my light-hearted approach to learning Thai turned out to be invaluable in many ways.  I learned to attack something super difficult with effort and humor, and I learned to love a language in a way that fundamentally changed my approach to teaching my own language to my own kids.

Dr. Seuss' approach to writing was similar to this light-hearted, give-me-a-chance-to-laugh-while-I-learn approach.  He wanted to grab kids and pull them into his books with his silliness while still turning them on to the magic of reading and, often, teaching a pretty important lesson.  Shel Silverstein's books of poems--think A Light in the Attic--were a part of my childhood, as I'm sure they were a part of yours.  But Runny Babbit, which we happened upon in our local library, is more in line with Dr. Seuss than his other anthologies.  Silverstein worked on it for decades, and it was published posthumously.  I think it is, by far, his best stuff.  It is WONDERFUL. Truly all-caps worthy!

Read a few stanzas of one poem, "Kugs and Hisses," and you'll agree, I think:
Runny said, "I'm lonesome,
I feel so glad and sooty.
I need some kugs and hisses--
Now, who's gonna give 'em to me?"
"I will," said Polly Dorkupine,
"'Cause you're cute as a rug in a bug."
Said Runny, "Well, I'll kake the tiss,
But never hind the mug."
So clever!  Genius, really!  So hilarious!  Giggle-worthy!  Side-splitting!  Turn-the-page-I-want-more stuff!  And isn't this the sort of book we want our children to read (especially in our lap, thankfully putting down whatever we're doing on our endless to do list and, instead, giggling right alongside our kid/s, understanding what Silverstein is doing here, and then creating our own Runny Babbit-language for days and weeks and years to come)?!
Oh this page is so funny!  Enlarge it and you'll agree!

The book is a collection of poems, yes, but really each poem is like a new little chapter in Runny Babbit's life.  This adds to the turn-the-page-I-want-more-ness of the book.  Lorelei was the first one to sit and read it, laughing like crazy, saying, "Oh Mom, you've got to read this!" until I did.  Months later, after we had a personal copy of the book, Ben got in on the joke and we slowly read and explained the jokes to him.  He laughed, but as he's only a beginner reader (and perhaps also a little less of a language-lover than Lorelei and me), so he hasn't yet applied the twists and turns to his own language.

Lorelei, on the other hand, can't be stopped.  Bappy Hirthday! she says to people on their birthday, completely not caring if they don't get her own Runny Babbit-language joke.  I'm proud to say she's inherited the laugher-at-myself-er gene, and I'm prouder to say she gets that from me.  I have a feeling that in a few decades this Runny Babbit-language will pop up: I've decided to major in Lenglish Iterature, Mom! or I'm going to Chudy in Stina, Mom!  It will not surprise me.  It will make me smile.

This is a must-have.  Not just a must-read.  It's one of those books that you've got to have on your shelf so that you and your kids have a light-hearted book into which you can dive when things get too serious around the house.  We love it, and I hope you love it just as much.

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