Sheldon Allan "Shel" Silverstein (September
25, 1930 – May 10, 1999) was an American poet, singer-songwriter,
musician, composer, cartoonist, screenwriter and author of children's
books. He styled himself as Uncle Shelby on his children's books,
and some sources incorrectly state that he was born Shelby Silverstein.
He signed some cartoons simply S.S. Translated into 20 languages,
his books have sold over 20 million copies.
Boy Named Shel - The Life and Times of Shel Silverstein
- Few authors are as beloved as Shel Silverstein. His inimitable
drawings and comic poems have become the bedtime staples of millions
of children and their parents, but few readers know much about
the man behind that wild-eyed, bearded face peering out from the
backs of dust jackets.
Shel Silverstein on "The Johnny Cash Show"
The Missing Piece by Shel Silverstein
Where the Sidewalks Ends - all Hebrew:
Shel Silverstein shook the staid world of children's poetry in
1974 with the publication of this collection, and things haven't
been the same since. More than four and a half million copies
of Where the Sidewalk Ends have been sold, making it the bestselling
children's poetry book ever. With this and his other poetry collections
(A Light in the Attic and Falling Up), Silverstein reveals his
genius for reaching kids with silly words and simple pen-and-ink
drawings. What child can resist a poem called "Dancing Pants"
or "The Dirtiest Man in the World"? Each of the 130
poems is funny in a different way, or touching ... or both. Some
approach naughtiness or are a bit disgusting to squeamish grown-ups,
but that's exactly what kids like best about Silverstein's work.
Jim Trelease, author of The New Read-Aloud Handbook, calls this
book "without question, the best-loved collection of poetry
for children." (Ages 4 to 10)
The Missing Piece meets The Big O: All Hebrew
The Giving Tree: All Hebrew
The Missing Piece:
Born in Chicago, Silverstein began drawing at age five by tracing
the works of Al Capp, as he later recalled, "The first thing
I did was copy Al Capp. He really influenced me. It was the most
wondrous thing for me. Al Capp knew how to draw people, shapes,
bodies, hands. He knew how to draw well, so I learned how to draw
well." He was also influenced by the style of gag cartoonist
Virgil Partch. He told Jean Mercier of Publishers Weekly: "When
I was a kid—12 to 14, around there—I would much rather have been
a good baseball player or a hit with the girls, but I couldn't play
ball. I couldn't dance. Luckily, the girls didn't want me. Not much
I could do about that. So I started to draw and to write. I was
also lucky that I didn't have anybody 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 till I was around 30. By the time I got to where I was
attracting girls, I was already into work, and it was more important
to me. Not that I wouldn't rather make love, but the work has become
He attended the Art Institute of Chicago but left after one year.
He was first published in the Roosevelt Torch (a student newspaper
at Roosevelt University). In the military, his cartoons were published
in Pacific Stars and Stripes, where he had originally been assigned
to do layouts and paste-up. His first book, Take Ten, a compilation
of his military Take Ten cartoon series, was published by Pacific
Stars and Stripes in 1955.
Returning to Chicago as a civilian, Silverstein began submitting
freelance cartoons to magazines while also selling hot dogs at Chicago
ballparks, setting a record for the number of hot dogs sold at the
Thursday night games. His cartoons began appearing in Look, Sports
Illustrated and This Week.
Mass-market paperback readers across America were introduced to
Silverstein in 1956 when Take Ten was reprinted by Ballantine Books
as Grab Your Socks! with a foreword by Bill Mauldin.
In 1957, he became one of the leading cartoonists in Playboy, which
sent him around the world to create an illustrated travel journal
with reports from far-flung locales. During the 1950s and 1960s,
he produced 23 installments of his regular "Shel Silverstein
Visits..." feature for Playboy. Employing a sketchbook format
with typewriter-styled captions, he documented his own experiences
at such locations as a New Jersey nudist colony, the Chicago White
Sox training camp, San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district, Fire
Island, Mexico, London, Paris, Spain and Africa. In a Swiss village,
he drew himself complaining, "I'll give them 15 more minutes,
and if nobody yodels, I'm going back to the hotel." These illustrated
travel essays were collected by the publisher Fireside in Playboy's
Silverstein Around the World (2007), with a foreword by Hugh Hefner
and an introduction by music journalist Mitch Myers.
"Now here's my plan..."
His best known cartoon of the 1950s was featured on the cover of
his next cartoon collection, Now Here's My Plan: A Book of Futilities,
published by Simon & Schuster in 1960. Silverstein biographer
Lisa Rogak wrote:
The cartoon on the cover that provides the book's title would turn
out to be one of his most famous and often-cited cartoons. In the
cartoon, two prisoners are chained to the wall of a prison cell...
Both their hands and feet are shackled. One says to the other, "Now
here's my plan." Shel was both fascinated and distressed by
the amount of analysis and commentary that almost immediately began
to swirl around the cartoon. "A lot of people said it was a
very pessimistic cartoon, which I don't think it is at all,"
he said. "There's a lot of hope even in a hopeless situation.
They analyze it and question it. I did this cartoon because I had
an idea about a funny situation about two guys."
Silverstein's cartoons appeared in every issue of Playboy from 1957
through the mid-1970s, and one of his Playboy features was expanded
into Uncle Shelby's ABZ Book (Simon & Schuster, 1961), his first
book of new, original material for adults. Because some were confused
whether it was for adults or children, the 1985 reprint had a conspicuous
cover label, "A Primer for Adults Only".
His stance on art and creativity was revealed in a 1963 Aardvark
I think that if you’re truly creative, you can work in certain related
fields of creativity, but then there are others that are beyond
you. For instance, a man who works well with words might work as
a writer and as a poet and as a lyricist. But if he tried to work
in sculpture, he might get absolutely nowhere. And a guy who is
very visual might easily work in painting and drawing, could also
work in costume design, if he leaned that way, could work in stage
setting, and in those related fields. I do believe that a person
who is truly observant in one of the arts will be truly observant
and sensitive in the others as well, but it’s his ability to express
these things that would limit him. I believe that a man who is a
sensitive painter is sensitive to life, and therefore would be sensitive
as a writer or as a storyteller, but having the ability to write
is something more than merely seeing. Having the ability to paint
is something more than merely seeing the colors, seeking the form.
It’s in execution, in skill.
Silverstein's editor at Harper & Row (now HarperCollins), Ursula
Nordstrom, encouraged Silverstein to write children's poetry. Silverstein
said that he never studied the poetry of others and therefore developed
his own quirky style, laid back and conversational, occasionally
employing profanity and slang. In the Publishers Weekly interview,
he was asked how he came to do children's books:
He is a strong, well-muscled, fit-looking man who wears blue jeans
and a big cowboy hat. Though he has to be into his 40s (he's a Korean
War veteran), he is also totally in touch with the contemporary
scene... How, then, PW wanted to know, had he decided to get into
children's books? "I didn't," Shel said, "I never
planned to write or draw for kids. It was Tomi Ungerer, a friend
of mine, who insisted—practically dragged me, kicking and screaming,
into Ursula Nordstrom's office. And she convinced me that Tomi was
right; I could do children's books." The relationship between
Ursula Nordstrom and Shel Silverstein is mutually rewarding. He
considers her a superb editor who knows when to leave an author-illlustrator
alone. Asked if he would change something he had produced on an
editor's say-so, he answered with a flat "No." But he
added: "Oh, I will take a suggestion for revision. I do eliminate
certain things when I'm writing for children if I think only an
adult will get the idea. Then I drop it, or save it. But editors
messing with content? No." Had he been surprised by the astronomical
record of The Giving Tree, his biggest seller to date and one of
the most successful children's books in years? Another emphatic
no. "What I do is good," he said. "I wouldn't let
it out if I didn't think it was." But The Giving Tree, which
has been selling steadily since it appeared ten years ago and has
been translated into French, is not his own favorite among his books.
"I like Uncle Shelby's ABZ, A Giraffe and a Half and Lafcadio,
the Lion Who Shot Back—I think I like that one the most."The
Giving Tree is one of those rare creations that seem to defy categorization,
appealing equally to the reverent and the irreverent, the sophisticated
and the simple. It tells of a tree and the use a man makes of it.
When he is a boy, he plays in the tree's branches and enjoys its
luscious fruit. Later, he courts his love under the tree and uses
some of its wood to build a house for his family. Years pass; the
man is now old and alone. The tree lets him take its trunk to carve
a boat from, and the man rows away. Finally he returns for the last
time to sit and rest on the stump of the tree—all that's left of
Otto Penzler, in his crime anthology Murder for Revenge (1998),
commented on Silverstein's versatility:
“ The phrase "Renaissance man" tends to get overused these
days, but apply it to Shel Silverstein and it practically begins
to seem inadequate. Not only has he produced with seeming ease country
music hits and popular songs, but he's been equally successful at
turning his hand to poetry, short stories, plays, and children's
books. Moreover, his whimsically hip fables, beloved by readers
of all ages, have made him a stalwart of bestseller lists. A Light
in the Attic, most remarkably, showed the kind of staying power
on the New York Times chart — two years, to be precise — that most
of the biggest names (John Grisham, Stephen King and Michael Crichton)
have never equaled for their own blockbusters. His unmistakable
illustrative style is another crucial element to his appeal. Just
as no writer sounds like Shel, no other artist's vision is as delightfully,
sophisticatingly cockeyed. One can only marvel that he makes the
time to respond so kindly to his friends' requests. In the following
work, let's be glad he did. Drawing on his characteristic passion
for list making, he shows how the deed is not just in the wish but
in the sublimation. ”
This anthology was the second in a series, which also included Murder
for Love (1996) and Murder and Obsession (1999). All three anthologies
included Silverstein contributions. He did not really care to conform
to any sort of norm, but he did want to leave his mark for others
to be inspired by, as he told Publishers Weekly:
I would hope that people, no matter what age, would find something
to identify with in my books, pick up one and experience a personal
sense of discovery. That's great. I think that if you're creative
person, you should just go about your business, do your work and
not care about how it's received. I never read reviews because if
you believe the good ones you have to believe the bad ones too.
Not that I don't care about success. I do, but only because it lets
me do what I want. I was always prepared for success but that means
that I have to be prepared for failure too. I have an ego, I have
ideas, I want to be articulate, to communicate but in my own way.
People who say they create only for themselves and don't care if
they are published... I hate to hear talk like that. If it's good,
it's too good not to share. That's the way I feel about my work.
So I'll keep on communicating, but only my way. Lots of things I
won't do. I won't go on television because who am I talking to?
Johnny Carson? The camera? Twenty million people I can't see? Uh-uh.
And I won't give any more interviews.
A Boy Named She - The Life and Times of Shel Silverstein