Allison's Book Bag

Introducing Poet Shel Silverstein

Posted on: October 11, 2013

Shel Silverstein

Shel Silverstein (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Born into a Jewish family, Shel Silverstein (1930-1999) was an American poet, singer-songwriter, cartoonist, screenwriter, and author of children’s books. His books have been translated into more than 30 languages and sold over 20 million copies. This Saturday, I’ll review one collection of his poems, A Light in the Attic, as part of my round-up of literature about misfit kids.

By age twelve, Silverstein had begun drawing by tracing the works of Al Capp. According to Wikipedia, Silverstein felt: ” 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….”

After high school, Silverstein attended Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and Roosevelt University for three years, until 1953 when he was drafted into the United States Army. After his stint in the Army, he began drawing cartoons for magazines, but it was his work for Playboy magazine that began garnering Silverstein national recognition. Silverstein’s cartoons appeared in every issue of Playboy from 1957 through the mid-1970s.

While at Playboy, Silverstein also began exploring other areas of creativity, including writing and music. He also began publishing his own books of cartoons. In 1960, Silverstein’s collected cartons, Now Here’s My Plan: A Book of Futilities, would appear with one of his most famous drawings adorning the cover. As for music, he recorded his first album, Hairy Jazz in 1959, and produced more than a dozen albums over the course of his diverse career.

By the time he was well-settled into work, he also began attracting females. Silverstein had a girlfriend named Susan with whom he had one daughter who died at age twelve of a cerebral aneurysm and a son.

Silverstein’s editor at Harper & Row, Ursula Nordstrom, encouraged Silverstein to write children’s poetry. The first,The Giving Tree, is about the love of a tree for a boy. Silverstein experienced a difficult time trying to get the book published, explaining that, “Everybody loved it, they were touched by it, they would read it and cry and say it was beautiful. But….” One publisher said it was too short. Some thought it was too sad. Others felt that the book fell between adult and children’s literature and wouldn’t be popular. It apparently took Shel four years before Ursula Nordstrom, the legendary Harper & Row editor, decided to publish it. According to Silverstein, she even let him keep the sad ending, because “because life, you know, has pretty sad endings. You don’t have to laugh it up even if most of my stuff is humorous.”

Educators check out: Learning Resources

Fans check out: Fun & Games


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Happy New Year!

Allison’s Book Bag is currently on hiatus. I will return after a much-needed rest with reviews of Advanced Reader Copies including: Freddy Frogcaster and the Flash Flood by Janice Dean, One Two by Igor Eliseev, Incredible Magic of Being by Kathyrn Erskine, Dragon Grammar Book by Diane Robinson, and Wide as the Wind by Edward Stanton.



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