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Juvenile Books Author of the Month
Shel Silverstein
Shel Silverstein
25 September 1932 -- 10 May 1999

Sheldon Allan Silverstein was born on September 26, 1932 in Chicago, Illinois.

Silverstein began to write when he was a young boy in Chicago. "When I was a kid -- 12, 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." [1] 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 Steinerg. I never saw their work until I was around thirty." [1]

During the 1950's, Silverstein served with United States forces in Japan and Korea. During his time in the military, he was a cartoonist for the Pacific Stars and Stripes, a military newsletter provided for those serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.

After completing his military duty, Silverstein was hired as a staff cartoonist for an adult magazine in 1956. The magazine also allowed him an opportunity to publish a number of his poems.

It was in 1963 that he was convinced by fellow illustrator Tomi Ungerer convinced him to consider illustrating children's books. Ungerer introduced Silverstein to Ursula Nordstrum, one of the leading children's book editors. "Tomi Ungerer ... practically dragged me, kicking and screaming, into Ursula Nordstrum's office. And she convinced me that Tomi was right; I could do children's books." [6]

A year later, his first book, The Giving Tree was published. It became one of his all-time most successful books, but it had been rejected by publishers who feared that it fell between the interests of children and adults. In Silverstein's eyes, the book was a story about two people; one gives and the other takes. Ultimately, both adults and children embraced the book heartily.

Where the Sidewalk Ends, which won a number of awards, was published in 1974. It may be the book for which Silverstein is most known. Silverstein followed up on the popular collection of poems with A Light in the Attic, published in 1981, and Falling Up, published in 1996, as well as a number of other books for children.

Shel Silverstein's writing career was not just limited to literature. Silverstein was drawn to folk music in 1960 and later became a respected composer. He wrote lyrics for and composed "A Boy Named Sue" in 1969, which became a number one hit for Johnny Cash. He also wrote music for Loretta Lynn, Jerry Lee Lewis, and a number of other well known singers of the 1960's and 1970's. He is also notorious for writing the song "Hello Mudduh, Hello Fadduh."

Silverstein also wrote the music for four movies. Two of them, called Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Such Terrible Things About Me? and Ned Kelly, opened in 1970. He also wrote the music for the movie Thieves which was released in 1977. In 1988, he wrote a song called "I'm Checkin' Out." The song appeared in the movie Postcards from the Edge, for which Silverstein also wrote the rest of the music in 1990. He was nominated for an Academy Award for the song.

Movies was not the only medium in which Silverstein experienced the performing arts. He started writing plays in 1981. One of his best known scripts, The Lady or the Tiger Show, was a one-act play first produced in New York City that year. It was a satire about a game show in which contestants risked their lives by choosing between two doors. Behind one of them is a beautiful woman, and behind the other is a tiger. He also collaborated on the screenplay for the 1988 Columbia Pictures film entitled Things Change with David Mamet.

In 1980, Silverstein released his own album of folk songs that he wrote and performed called The Great Conch Train Robbery.

Shel Silverstein died on Monday, May 10, 1999 from a heart attack in Key West, Florida. A man of many talent, he wrote to reach out to as many people as he could. "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." [5}

Information for this biography was taken from:
    1) Anne Commire (ed.). Contemporary Authors, #33; Gale Research Company: Detroit, Mich., 1983.
    2) Sara Pendergast and Tom Pendergast. St. James Guide to Children's Writers; St. James Press: Detroit,Mich., 1999.
    3) "Shel Silverstin", The Academy of American Poets (http://www.poets.org/poets/poets.cfm?prmID=105)
    4) Shel Silverstein: Author, Artist, Composer, Musician, Performer, Playwrite, and So Much More!

    5) Shel Silverstein (1932-1999) Teacher Resource File (http://falcon.jmu.edu/~ramseyil/silverstein.htm).
6) Stasia Ward. Meet Shel Silverstein; PowerKids Press: New York, 2001.

Titles by Shel Silverstein
E-SIL A Giraffe and a Half(1964) -- Delightfully zany rhymes about a giraffe who accumulates some ridiculus things, like glue on his shoe and bee on his knee, only to lose them again, one by one,

E-SIL The Giving Tree (1964) -- The story of a boy who grows into manhood and of a tree that gives him her bounty through the years. It is a moving parable about the gift of giving and the capacity to love.

E-SIL The Missing Piece (1976) -- A circle has difficulty finding its missing piece, but has a good time looking for it.

E-SIL The Missing Piece Meets the Big O (1981) -- A missing piece, looking for someone to carry it along, finally develops its own momentum.

E-SIL Who Wants a Cheap Rhinoceros? (1983) -- There are lots of things a rhinoceros can do around one's house, including eating bad report cards before one's parents see them, tiptoeing downstairs for a midnight snack, and collecting extra allowance.

J-SIL Uncle Shelby's Story of Lafcadio, the Lion Who Shot Back (1963) -- After leaving the jungle for the circus and a life of fame and wealth, a lion who taught himself to be the best shot in the world discovers he's not really a lion anymore and not really a man, either.

J-811-SIL A Light in the Attic (1981) -- The poetry collected in this book encompasses satires, limericks, ballads, questions, tall stories, ridiculous situations, and a deft way with language.

J-811-SIL Where the Sidewalk Ends: The Poems and Drawings of Shel Silverstein (1974) -- A boy who turns into a TV set and a girl who eats a whale are only two of the characters in a collection of humorous poetry illustrated with the author's own drawings.

J-811.54-SIL Falling Up: Poems and Drawings (1996) -- This collection of poems introduces a gallery of daffy characters like the Terrible Toy-Eating Tookle, a hamburger named James, and blissfully oblivious Headphone Harold.

"Shel Silverstein", The Academy of American Poets (http://www.poets.org/poets/poets.cfm?prmID=105) -- This site provides a brief biography for Shel Silverstein.

Shel Silverstein: Author, Artist, Composer, Musician, Performer, Playwrite, and So Much More! (http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Academy/7161/index.html) -- A brief look at the various aspects of Shel Silverstein's career is provided by this site.

Shel Silverstein (1932-1999) Teacher Resource File (http://falcon.jmu.edu/~ramseyil/silverstein.htm) -- A brief look at the various aspects of Shel Silverstein's career is provided by this site.   

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