September 25 - Happy Birthday, Shel Silverstein

Posted on September 25, 2018

Today's famous birthday was a writer - a poet - a cartoonist ! 

Some of his books are really famous, for kids' books...and really, really famous, for kids' poetry books! Here are three you may have heard of:

The Giving Tree is a story; the book has sold more than 5 million copies, has been translated into more than 30 languages, and has appeared on countless lists of "best children's books" and the like.

A Light in the Attic is a collection of poems.

And Where the Sidewalk Ends is an earlier (and I believe more famous) collection of poems.

Born on this date in 1930, in Chicago, Illinois, Silverstein started to draw at a young age, and he was bad enough at sports that he used writing and drawings as an outlet as a teenager.

Silverstein was expelled from a university, and when he tried to go to art school instead, that was interrupted by him being drafted into the U.S. Army. But that's okay, since he later said that college had been a waste of time for him. He said that the money he spent on tuition would have been better spent traveling the world, meeting people.

And of course military service often allows people to travel. Silverstein served in Japan and Korea and had many cartoons published in a military newspaper.

When he got home from the Army, he sold hot dogs at a ballpark, but he also submitted cartoons to magazines. One magazine sent him around the world to write about and cartoon-illustrate his adventures! So that was another chance to REALLY educate himself.

Of course, soon Silverstein started writing books and being published and becoming popular and famous and even beloved! Although he is most famous as a children's author and poet, he has also written songs and stories for TV and for theater. One of his most famous songs, "A Boy Named Sue," was recorded by Johnny Cash and earned Silverstein a Grammy Award.

Did you know...?

  • Silverstein cared a lot about books as physical objects. He felt that they had to be printed on the right paper - the right size, color, shape, and feel of paper. He didn't allow paperback editions of most of his books because they wouldn't have been printed on as good a quality of paper.
  • Silverstein's books are surprisingly controversial. For example, some people think that The Giving Tree is about a super positive relationship, and others feel it is about a terrible relationship. Many people have interpretations of it - it's about humans and the environment, it's about children and parents, it's about humans and God, it's about friendship. Some people even insist that it is satire.

    You're probably thinking, "Well, what did Shel Silverstein
    mean to say with The Giving Tree? But Silverstein had a strict rule about never explaining what he'd written.

  • Some of Silverstein's poems are controversial. Like, how many parents want their kids to read "How Not to Have to Dry the Dishes"? The book A Light in the Attic has been banned from so many libraries and schools, it appears on the "100 Most Frequently Challenged Books" list.

Also on this date:

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