I’d Rather Play At Hug O’War

We all love children’s books.


They remind us of the best parts of childhood. The stories are often simple and funny and have a happy end. They allow us to escape from hurly-burly to magic adventure. But mainly because, buried in the phantasmogorical story detail, is a message. It might be Love. Friendship. Family. Peace. Goodness. It’s Feelgood in a Fable.

It was on our table at home, bought by Nanna, ready to be wrapped, a gift for one of our grandkids. Where the Sidewalk Ends…the poems and drawings of Shel Silverstein. I opened it on page 76. The Unicorn.

Saint Justina with the Unicorn by Moretto da Brescia, circa 1530 – 1534, Museum of Art History, Vienna

A long time ago, when the earth was green

And there was more kinds of animals than you’ve ever seen

And they run around free while the world was bein’ born

And the loveliest of all was the unicorn

There was green alligators and long-necked geese.

There was humpy bumpy camels and chimpanzees.

There was catsandratsandelephants, but sure as you’re born

The loveliest of all was the Unicorn.

I knew the words.  It was a song. Sometime in 1968, between Steppenwolf, Sly and the Family Stone, and Sam and Dave, a Canadian band called The Irish Rovers snuck in this folksy nonsensical ditty which became an instant hit.

What I didn’t know as a 20 year old, I now knew. The song was a poem by Shel Silverstein. Shel, who died in 1999, was an American cartoonist and poet. He specialised in children’s books. And he wrote songs. Johnny Cash’s A Boy Named Sue and Dr Hook’s The Ballad of Lucy Jordan, among many others. Marianne Faithful is one of many artists to have covered The Ballad of Lucy Jordan 

It took about 30 minutes to read the poems in his book. Every one a masterpiece. I’ll leave you with two.

Listen to the MUSTN’TS, child,

Listen to the DON’TS

Listen to the SHOULDN’TS


Listen to the NEVER HAVES

Then listen close to me –

Anything can happen, child,


And my favourite:

I will not play at tug o’ war

I’d rather play at hug o’war

Where everyone hugs

Instead of tugs,

Where everyone giggles

And rolls on the rug,

Where everyone kisses,

And everyone grins,

And everyone cuddles,

And everyone wins.

Hmmm…now where’s Nanna gone….

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