Jack Prelutsky

Like a lot of adults with literary leanings, I was read to frequently as a child. I grew up next to my father's tall, imposing book shelves stacked with volumes that seemed impossibly thick and difficult, except for the bottom rows which were replete with children's books of every stripe. My mother has always enjoyed seasonal themes, so we always had a variety of books for a number of holidays throughout the year. When I think of holiday books for kids, my mind immediately goes to a clever fellow named Jack Prelutsky. Jack Prelutsky has been a staple of children's literature for more than 30 years thanks to his combination of imaginative themes and universal appeal. The Poetry Foundation named him its first Children's Poet Laureate in 2006 and he's still a prolific writer today at the age of 69. My personal favorite among all of Prelutsky's books is 1977's It's Halloween. In the late 70's and early 80's he produced an entire series of holiday poem collections that followed a similar format. Brief, clever rhymes about the various decor and periphera of each holiday are anchored by immediately identifiable verses about the experience of being a kid during these celebrations. There is a perfect balance of fantasy and the beauty of the mundane in these volumes. "Skeletons On Parade" is fun, but "My Sister, My Brother and Me" is what allows a collection like It's Halloween to ring true. The real power of writers like Jack Prelutsky is that they show young people how easy it is to begin developing their own poetry. Not only are these poems about simple families and recognizable experiences a fun way to capture the spirit of their associated holidays, they're an invitation for kids to accept the potential beauty of the mundane. These poems, fanciful as they can be, are punctuated by a surprising range of emotions. They introduce their young readers to complex ideas like irony, both comic and tragic, with poems about coming away from an apple-bobbing contest with nothing but a wet face, or a Thanksgiving poem about an unfortunate girl forced to endure the holiday with new braces. Prelutsky writes the rain, the absurdity and the equalizing pathos of life, all in a way that connects with a young audience without patronizing them. As a lifelong fan of Jack Prelutsky, I've seen his work as the basis for many of my adult tastes. I get the same feeling I had back when I read those books with my parents as I do today when I read the subtle human dramas of an author like Milan Kundera or when I see a particularly stirring dramatic production. It's all cut from the same cloth of honest human-ness, the unpretentious poetry of socks with holes in them or hand-washing a dish. It's all too often that we assume children are only interested in flights of fancy, so we only give them books about magic and anthropomorphic animals. For all those kids who would rather play house and have an indefatigable desire to climb higher on those imposing book shelves, there's Jack Prelutsky.
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