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Shelly Silverstein, most commonly known as Shel Silverstein. He is best known in children’s literature for his poetry; however, he was also a cartoonist, composer, lyricist and folk singer. Silverstein’s work, which he illustrated himself, is characterized by a deft mixing of the sly and the serious, the macabre and the just plain silly. Silverstein was born on September 25, 1930 in Chicago, Illinois. His wicked, giddy humor is beloved by countless adults as well as by children.

Shel began writing as a young boy in Chicago. Although he would rather have been playing baseball or chasing girls, he could not catch or hit a ball, and the girls were not interested in him. He gave his energies to writing. He developed his very own writing style at a young age and was unfamiliar with the poetry of the great poets of his time. “I was so lucky that I didn’t have anyone to copy, be impressed by. I had developed my own style, I was creating before I knew there was a Thurber, a Benchley, a Price and a Steinberg. I never saw their work until I was around thirty” By the time girls were interested in him he was involved in his work.”

Silverstein never planned on writing and drawing for children. His friend, Tomi Ungerer, brought him to Ursula Nordstom’s office where she convinced him to do children’s books. One of his earliest and most successful books, The Giving Tree, was rejected by editor William Cole. Cole felt that the book fell between adults’ and children’s literature and would never sell. In Silverstein’s eyes, it was a story about two people; one gives and the other takes. Ultimately, both adults and children embraced the book. He hoped that people, no matter what age, could identify with his other books as well.

His works include Falling Up (1996), Where the Sidewalk Ends (1981), A Light in the Attic (1981), The Missing Piece Meets the Big O (1982). He won awards for all three books: The Michigan Young Readers Award for Where the Sidewalk Ends (1981); a School Library Journal Best Books (1982) for A Light in the Attic, an International Reading Association’s Children’s Choices Award for The Missing Piece Meets the Big O.

Referring to Shel Silverstein as a children’s author and stopping there, attempts to limit a great man who was much more. The writing of children’s poetry is only half of the Shel Silverstein story.

He actually started out cartooning when he was in the U.S. Army for Pacific Stars and Stripes?? In 1956, he caught the attention of Hugh Hefner, and began his life-long association with Playboy magazine supplying poignant adult cartoons and other humor.?It wasn’t until the 60’s that he wrote his first children’s book, The Giving Tree, and found wide-spread fame as a children’s author. ? Silverstein’s intuitive mastery of silliness, satire and clever word play endeared him to all age groups.? Even after entering the children’s market, he continued writing for Playboy as well as writing lyrics for artists such as Dr. Hook, Bobby Bare, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Kris Kristofferson, the Serendipity Singers and many more. Often there are two versions to a Silverstein poem.? Now and then we run across a song version and a Playboy version. Shel Silverstein’s adult lyrics, poems and cartoons illustrated his people and street savvy he understood human nature of all ages.?Silverstein’s cartooning and poetry often centered on sexuality and the drug culture but never without a thoughtful message, lesson, or quiet observation. Many of Silverstein’s works that are considered to be children’s literature originated in the adult genre and vice versa. Someone Ate the Baby is from Shel Silverstein’s: Songs and Stories album, 1978. The same poem appears in Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends as Dreadful.

Shel Silverstein passed away May 10, 1999 from a heart attack. He will be remembered for generations to come through the joy he will continue to bring to children and adults through his life’s work.


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