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Biography of Shel Silverstein - Poet and Author of Children's Books

Updated on July 22, 2017
Shel Silverstein
Shel Silverstein | Source

Sheldon Allan Silverstein well known as Shel Silverstein was born in Chicago on September 25, 1930.

Shel Silverstein was an American songwriter, poet, author of children's books, musician, composer, cartoonist, and playwright.His writings ranged from being funny, irreverent to teaching a moral lesson. His writings were always accompanied by his drawings that showcased his unique style.

Children enjoyed reading his poetic verses. They were naughty and funny and appealed to a child's thoughts and imagination.

One of his books The Giving Tree has been translated into thirty languages. It is still one among the many books listed as the best children's book of all time.

Early Life of Shel Silverstein

Shel Silverstein was born to Nathan and Helen Silverstein. He was very talented and started drawing and writing at a very young age.

Shel Silverstein graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1948. After finishing his high school, Shel Silverstein joined the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and further studied at the Roosevelt University. Shel Silverstein did not complete the course in Roosevelt University, he dropped out and joined the army in September 1953.

During his term in the army, he served in different American bases including Korea and Japan. Many of his cartoons were published in the Pacific Stars and Stripes magazine during his term in the army. Shel Silverstein’s first book Take Ten was published in 1955; it was a compilation of his military Take Ten cartoon series.

Shel Silverstein's Cartoon Series

On his return to Chicago Shel Silverstein decided to submit his cartoons to various magazines. His cartoon submissions were featured in magazines such as Look, Sports Illustrated and The Week. He became well-known among people when his book Take Ten was published by Ballantine Books but under a different name – Grab Your Socks in the year 1956.

Later on the Playboy magazine hired him as a senior cartoonist. His first assignment was to travel the world and create a travel journal. Shel Silverstein visited places such as New Jersey, Chicago, Mexico, London, Paris, Spain and Africa.

In the year 1950 Shel Silverstein published a cartoon collection called Now Here's My Plan that went on to become the best cartoon collection of the 1950s and later on became the cover of his next hugely popular cartoon series published by Simon and Schuster.

Shel Silverstein - The Poet

In the year 1974 Shel Silverstein released his first collection of poems for children, Where the Sidewalk Ends. His poems were funny and always illustrated in black and white. In the year 1976 Shel Silverstein introduced a new picture book called The Missing Piece.

The Missing Piece was a story about a circle searching for a missing wedge of itself and when the circle finally finds the missing piece, it realizes that the whole experience of searching was a greater joy than actually having the missing piece.

After three years had passed Shel Silverstein published another book called the Different Dances. The Light in the Attic was the one book that catapulted Shel Silverstein to recognition as a great poet.

Shel Silverstein released another book as a sequel to the first book The Missing Piece called The Missing Pice Meets the Big O. This story revolved around the missing piece and was written from the missing piece's point of view.

Shel Silverstein - A Profound Writer
Shel Silverstein - A Profound Writer | Source

Shel Silverstein - Author of Children's Books

Shel Silverstein published his very first book “Uncle Shelby’s Story of Lafcadio: The Lion Who Shot Back” in 1963. “The Giving Tree” was the book that brought recognition to Shel Silverstein as an author of children's books.

The book The Giving Tree was rejected by Editor William Cole, but it was later on published by Harper Collins and became a huge success.

The Giving Tree was beautifully written and illustrated by Shel Silverstein. The Giving Tree is a story about a boy who visits the tree every day and keeps taking what the tree willingly gives but as the boy grows he wants more and more. The tree keeps giving with unconditional love expecting nothing in return till it has nothing more to give.

Listen to the Voice
Listen to the Voice | Source

Shel Silverstein's Contributions to Music and Theater

Shel Silverstein was passionate about music and he penned many songs for other artists. Some of his songs became popular and was a hit among his fans, to name a few -

A Boy Named Sue sung by Johnny Cash, One’s On the Way and The Unicorn sung by Irish Rovers, Boa Constrictor, So Good To So Bad, Slyvia’s Mother sung by Dr. Hook.

Shel Silverstein wrote movie scripts such as Ned Kelly, Thieves, Postcards From the Edge and Who is Harry Kellerman And Why IS He Saying Those Terrible Things.

He also penned one hundred plays, to name a few - The Lady or the Tiger Show, One Tennis Shoe, Bus Stop, Going Once, The Best Daddy, The Lifeboat is Sinking.

Shel Silverstein strumming his guitar
Shel Silverstein strumming his guitar | Source

Shel Silverstein married Susan Hastings. They had a daughter name Shoshanna on June 30, 1970 Shoshanna died at a very young age; she was eleven years old when she was affected by cerebral aneurysm that lead to her untimely death.

He also had a son named Mathew with another woman named Sarah but he never married her.

Shel Silverstein won a Grammy Award for A boy named Sue in 1970. He was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe for his song I’m Checking Out in the film Postcards From the Edge. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2002 posthumously.

Shel Silverstein kept writing plays, songs and poems till his very last days. He died of heart failure in Key West Florida on May 9th, 1999.



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    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 18 months ago from Dubai

      grand old lady thank you, his books are great to read and am happy to know that you are a fan of Shel Silverstein.

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 18 months ago from Philippines

      Shel Silverstein was certainly multi talented. I loved his book The Missing Piece, and enjoyed the movie, Postcards from the Edge. It's nice to be reminded of this man and to know him beyond his body of work. Well done.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 22 months ago from Dubai

      annart thank you for your visit and comment, much appreciated.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 22 months ago from SW England

      I hadn't heard of this author, though 'The Giving Tree' rings a bell. It's interesting that he wrote 'A boy named Sue'; I'd always thought that it was Johnny Cash's own!

      He seems to have had a great talent for writing all sorts of things and at so many levels.

      This is an interesting, informative hub.


    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 2 years ago from Dubai

      AudreyHowitt thank you for your visit and am glad you got to know about him through this hub.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 2 years ago from California

      This was so interesting to read--one of my favorite children's authors and I really knew nothing about him--

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 2 years ago from Dubai

      DDE thank you for your visit and comment.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Interesting and most useful indeed! You share great hubs with great lessons. I had to stop by again.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 2 years ago from Dubai

      ChitrangadaSharan thank you, Shel Silverstein is truly talented.

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 2 years ago from New Delhi, India

      Great hub and so informative!

      Thank you for enlightening us about the great work of Shel Silverstein. So many talents in one man !

      Well presented biography--Thanks for sharing!

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 2 years ago from Dubai

      Nell Rose, am glad you came to know him through this hub, thank you for your visit.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 2 years ago from England

      Fascinating! What a talented man! I had never heard of him before, but I had heard of the book, well one of the books and of course the music, thanks for introducing us to this fascinating man, nell

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 2 years ago from Dubai

      gerimcclyn happy to meet a fan of Shel Silverstein. Thank you for reading and sharing your experiences, much appreciated.

    • gerimcclym profile image

      Geri McClymont 2 years ago

      A very interesting biography on Shel Silverstein. The Giving Tree is a personal favorite and it was special to watch the video and hear his voice reading the story! The Missing Piece and The Missing Piece Meets the Big O are also favorites. His stories are so deep and symbolic and I love how he does all his illustrations in black and white, which sets him apart from other authors/illustrators. I enjoyed reading his works to my students when I taught at the elementary level, and I know they enjoyed hearing them and looking at the illustrations as well. Thanks for writing this hub. It is always interesting to learn about the person behind the work!

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 2 years ago from Dubai

      suzettenaples thank you. Children love his writings and his works are amazing.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 2 years ago from Dubai

      MsDora thank you. He is an inspiration and his writings are evergreen.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 2 years ago from The Caribbean

      I first read of this great poet when I came across "Where the Sidewalk Ends." He is an inspiration. Thank you so much for widening my knowledge about his life and his work. Informative and interesting!

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 2 years ago from Taos, NM

      I love Shel Silverstein and his poetry. I have used it many times in the classroom. Students love his work. This is a wonderful article on the man and I learned more about him than what I already knew. Thanks for sharing this with us!

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 2 years ago from Dubai

      DDE thank you for your visit and comment, much appreciated.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Great work! Informative and always interesting from you.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 2 years ago from Dubai

      always exploring thank you for your visit and am glad that you enjoyed.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 2 years ago from Southern Illinois

      I enjoyed the video and your biography of a really talented man. I didn't know he wrote songs. Thanks for sharing..

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 2 years ago from Dubai

      agusfanani Shel Silverstein is talented and his books are great to read, thank you for your visit.

    • agusfanani profile image

      agusfanani 2 years ago from Indonesia

      It's very interesting to read the story about Shel Silverstein. It sounds like he is a talented, creative person.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 2 years ago from Dubai

      Jodah thank you he is talented and children love his books even today.

      billybuc thank you for reading and leaving a comment.

      Alicia C am happy that you came to know about Shel Silverstein through this hub. You will enjoy reading his books.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Shel Silverstein sounds like a very interesting and creative man. Thank you for introducing me to his work, Vellur. I'm looking forward to exploring more of his creations.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Great mini-biography. I love Silverstein, always have...thanks for the interesting information, my friend.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Vellur, thank you for introducing me to Shel Silverstein. He was certainly my kind of poet. I love his verses for children. I knew him as a cartoonist for Playboy and a song writer but never realised that he was also a poet and writer of children's books. He was certainly talented.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 2 years ago from Dubai

      HSchneder, thank you and oh yes he is one of the best. I enjoy reading his books, and the best part is you can read them again and again.

      PAINTDRIPS thank you. Shel was very talented and versatile artist.

      Jackie Lynnley am happy that you got to know about Shel Silverstein; his books are great to read.

      Reynold Jay thank you and yes he has a unique style and is very creative and talented.

      FlourishAnyway thank you, The Giving Tree is one of the most popular among his many books.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

      The Giving Tree is one of my favorites. So poignant and it registers on so many levels. He was a very talented poet and artist. Excellent hub.

    • Reynold Jay profile image

      Reynold Jay 2 years ago from Saginaw, Michigan

      Great HUB. Like Jackie, I have not heard of him. He sounds like a very creative and talented person .

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 2 years ago from The Beautiful South

      This is great; never heard of him so really thankful to have him pointed out. Sounds like his books and poems would have been a lot of fun reading!

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image

      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Thank you for this. I love Shel Silverstein and have many of his books. I think he is a great artist as well as writer. One of my favorites is Runny Babbit. Very cute.

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      Howard Schneider 2 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Wonderful Hub, Nithya. Shel Silverstein was definitely one of America's literary trasures.