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Shel Silverstein's 'Runny Babbit' Tales

Consider the many worlds of the late writer and illustrator Shel Silverstein. He was friends with Playboy founder Hugh Hefner and with Nashville songwriters, such as Kris Kristofferson.

Silverstein's children's books -- including The Giving Tree, A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends -- have sold in the tens of millions.

He also wrote quirky hit songs in the 1960s and 70s, including "Cover of the Rolling Stone," performed by Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show, and "A Boy Named Sue," immortalized by Johnny Cash on his live album At San Quentin.

Now, six years after Silverstein's death, there's a new CD with some of his best-known poems and songs. And there's a book, Runny Babbit, a collection of previously unpublished poems made up of spoonerisms, where the first parts of words are transposed. ("Runny's Jig Bump," for example, begins: Runny be quimble, Runny be nick, Runny cump over the jandlestick.)

Mitch Myers, Shel Silverstein's nephew, wrote the liner notes for the new CD and helped compile the new collection of poems.

"There were hundreds of great poems and illustrations to choose from," he says. Myers says Silverstein was ambivalent about the project, which he had been working on "forever."

"I think he wasn't sure about how it would be received," Myers says. "It is and was very different. And it's not easy, even for adults to read. I think, actually, younger children have a better time at it because they're not so preconceived in their notions of how words work. And the playfulness of it really comes across."

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As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.