Book Review: Uncle Shelby’s ABZ

Book Review: Uncle Shelby’s ABZ

Author: Shel Silverstein

Date: 1961

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

ISBN: 0-671-21148-X

Length: pages not numbered

Illustrations: large cartoons (suitable for coloring) by the author

Quote: “[A]lthough Uncle Shelby has never been blessed with children of his own, the little ones have always had a very special place in his tired old heart…I have heard them playing and laugh­ing outside my window while I was trying to sleep and I have thought about them…And so this book—to help all my little friends get all the things in life that they so richly deserve.”

In other words, this book is a collection of mean practical jokes people, mostly older children, have played on innocent young children. The publisher did not recommend sharing it with children. If a child does get hold of it, you’ll need to spend some time demonstrating why all its suggestions are mean jokes…and the suggestion that the child perpetrate any of these jokes on a younger sibling is the meanest of all. I’d break out the serious threat artillery in a case like this. If a niece or nephew of mine were cruel enough to play one of these jokes on a young child, I would go to that niece’s or nephew’s school and demonstrate disco dance steps.

It’s funny for those who are old enough to laugh at a collection of more than thirty mean jokes that wouldn’t work on adults, and that it would be cruel to play on children. They range from a drawing of a lion identified as a dog who likes to be scratched, to a suggestion that if you brush your teeth often and keep them bright and white a predator will find you first in the dark, to a certificate children are advised to turn in at the grocery store to receive a real live pony, to a joke about a travelling salesman who told the farmer “I don’t need to sleep with anybody, I just need directions,” to a recommendation that kids count their fingers while holding their hands over an outline of a six-fingered hand. There’s a smudge on a page identified as where a quarter was supposed to have been glued, if Mommy didn’t pull it off and keep it. Then of course there’s the scrambled alphabet.

The drawing of an oboe (a diabolical suggestion to make to a small child, all by itself) mislabelled as a “gigolo” is one of those multilayered comedic achievements that leave me in awe, like Rush Limbaugh’s famous TV show in which he started to call attention to a math mistake made by a left-winger who’d been laughing at Dan Quayle’s “potatoe” blooper, and then, in mid-attack, Limbaugh proceeded to make a second-grade-level math mistake too. No comedian can be funny on that many levels every day and one might, if inclined to envy, wonder whether either Silverstein or Limbaugh could have been inspired enough to plan such effects, or backed into them by accident. The ancient Romans called it genius, and recognized it as a sort of higher-than-conscious level of the mind.

Uncle Shelby’s ABZ is recommended to those for whom laughing-out-loud-as-therapy works well enough that they never feel all that mean. If you can be satisfied by imagining Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd playing these pranks on each other, this book is for you.

Unfortunately Shel Silverstein no longer needs a dollar, and the minimum price of books sold via this web site is $5 per book + $5 per package (payable to either address in the lower left-hand corner of the screen). However, this is a slim book and the package would probably hold three or four others, possibly Fair Trade Books, for which the authors or charities of their choice would receive a dollar.

Here’s that book review cat again, courtesy of Morguefile:

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