“Read a Damn Book – 030: Uncle Shelby’s ABZ Book”

uncle shelbys abz (1961)

Shel Silverstein – Uncle Shelby’s ABZ Book (1961)

Most people probably know Shel Silverstein from his kids’ books: The Giving Tree, Where the Sidewalk Ends, A Light in the Attic—and these books are great. They are funny, clever, sometimes sad, sometimes a bit subversive, but family friendly. (Well, except “Dreadful” from Where the Sidewalk Ends, which starts with the line “Someone ate the baby…” That one’s a bit…dark.) However, there is also a decidedly ADULT side to Shel Silverstein, still funny of course, but much more in the counter-culture spirit. He actually won two Grammys, and he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. “WHY?” You might ask. Well, for writing classic songs like “A Boy Named Sue” and “I Got Stoned and I Missed It” and “Freakin’ at the Freakers’ Ball” of course! (The last two were both covered by Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show!)

And no discussion of Shel Silverstein would be complete without considering his famous “Primer for Adults Only,” Uncle Shelby’s ABZ Book. (Sadly, I purchased my copy from the children’s section of Powell’s Bookstore in Portland, Oregon!)

This rather short book (most people can probably read it in one sitting) was written and illustrated by Silverstein, and it almost looks like a kid’s book, but it ain’t. Disguised as Uncle Shelby, Silverstein provides an alphabet song with the letters out of order, tells kids to give “poor daddy” a haircut while he’s sleeping, suggests that drinking ink might be a good idea, and gives the reader this advice:

“K is for kidnapper / See the nice kidnapper / The kidnapper has a lollipop. / The kidnapper has a keen car. / The car can go fast. / Tell the nice kidnapper that your / Daddy has lots of money. / Then maybe he will / Let you ride / In his car.”

Dripping with irony and vicious humor, and with a high potential body count, this book probably isn’t for everyone. If you don’t find serious injury to children funny, I would definitely avoid. Most of the jokes are subtle by today’s standards—no foul language or Saw style gore—but that might be why the book works so well. Subtly is a lost art. These are jokes that build slowly and let the evil concepts simmer. Overall, I find Uncle Shelby’s ABZ Book to be very funny. If you appreciate the DARK SIDE of life, if you like Edward Gorey’s evil little tales, or if you just hate kids, this book will probably make you smile. (Where the Sidewalk Ends is also very good, of course!)

—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Supreme Bunny Lord of The P.E.W.)




About richardfyates

Compulsive creator of the bizarre and absurd. (Artist, writer, poet, provocateur...)
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