The children’s poems of Eloise Greenfield and Shel Silverstein feature distinctly different types of imagination and narrative voices. In Greenfield, the narrator’s imagination revolves around her experience as a black female child, and her reflections are both escapist and deeply aware of her heritage. In Silverstein, on the other hand, imagination does not draw from ethnic experience but is instead much more whimsical and addressed to both adults and children.In Honey, I Love, Greenfield (an African-American) writes poems that draw from the black urban experience.
Her speaker in the sixteen poems is a black girl (made clear by the illustrations) who rhapsodizes about her daily experiences – her likes and dislikes, the people around her, and her connections to her roots. The opening poem, for which the book is named, is a breathless declaration of things the speaker likes: “My uncle’s car is crowded and there’s lots of food to eat/We’re going down the country where the church folks like to meet/I’m looking out the window at the cows and trees outside/Honey, let me tell you that I LOVE to take a ride.
. . . (3) This poem sets the tome for the rest by showing how children conceive of their own senses.In “By Myself,” the speaker retreats into her own imagination more directly than elsewhere in the collection: “When I’m by myself/And I close my eyes/I’m a twin/I’m a dimple in a chin/I’m a room full of toys/I’m a squeaky noise/I’m a gospel song/I’m a gong/I’m a leaf turning red/I’m a loaf of brown bread.
. . .” (34) Imagination here seems to be an escape from the mundane world. Greenfield does not mention anything traumatic, but because the speaker is an African-American living in the urban North (as other poems imply), one can imagine that her surroundings are not idyllic. Greenfield does not depict bitterness or hardship, but she does allude to her heritage in “Harriet Tubman:” “Harriet Tubman didn’t take no stuff/Wasn’t scared of nothing neither/Didn’t come in this world to be no slaves/And wasn’t going to stay one neither. . . .” (30)Silverstein, who was white and something of a counterculture figure, puts more whimsy into A Light in the Attic, and less of the child’s point of view than one finds in Greenfield. “Stop Thief” is a good example: “Policeman, policeman,/Help me please./Someone went and stole my knees./I’d chase him down but I suspect/My feet and legs just won’t connect.” (13) His humor is less sweet than Greenfield, slyer and more openly comical; he writes as an adult using children as his subject and part of his audience. In the limerick “Crowded Tub,” he draws on a common childhood experience: “There’s too many kids in this tub./There’s too many elbows to scrub./I just washed a behind/That I’m sure wasn’t mine,/There’s too many kids in this tub.” (86)He uses a more objective voice than Greenfield, and while he writes from the child’s point of view, he also adds insights into children’s behavior that only an adult may have. In “Friendship,” he comments on children’s bossiness with a jocular tone (indeed, he does not scold or moralize), and even his more bizarre poems lack malice or harm. “Quick Trip,” which spreads a four-line poem across a four-page drawing of a lizard-like creature, is more humorous than frightening: “We’ve been caught by the quick-digesting Gink/And now we’re dodgin’ his teeth . . ./And now we are restin’ in his intestine/And now we’re back out on the street.” (116-119) Silverstein depicts being swallowed by a monster as funny, with the speaker unharmed.Greenfield roots imagination more in everyday experiences and the kinds of escapist thought that a child like she might have been would have conceived. Silverstein, meanwhile, draws less from experience and more from whimsy and humor, using a voice both adult and child-like. Both authors rely on humor and imagination, albeit in different ways.