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Home > History > Shel Silverstein - Authors Series

Shel Silverstein - Authors Series

This page describes the life and times of Shel Silverstein. It is part of our authors series.

Shel Silverstein

Shel Silverstein

Shel Silverstein was born on September 25th, 1930, in Chicago, Illinois. He started drawing when he was 12 years old. After graduating high school in 1948, he went to college at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts to study art. Later, he attended the University of Illinois. In September 1953, Silverstein dropped out (or was kicked out) of college and joined the army. He served in Japan, Korea and several other locations. While in the military, his cartoons were published three times a week in a magazine called Pacific Stars and Stripes. In 1955, his first book, Take Ten was published. It was a collection of the Take Ten cartoon series he created while in the military.

After leaving the army, Shel drew cartoons for the magazines Sports Illustrated, Look and This Week. In 1956, Ballantine Books reprinted his book Take Ten with the title Grab Your Socks. Playboy magazine hired Silverstein as a leading cartoonist to create an illustrated travel journal. In 1960, the cartoon collection called Here's My Plan: A Book of Futilities was published. While working at Playboy magazine, Silverstein began writing poetry and recording music. He contributed two poems to the magazine called The Winner and The Smoke-off.  At this time, he also recorded an album called Hairy Jazz. Silverstein went on to produce more than 12 albums throughout his career.

In 1963, Silverstein started writing children’s books.  His first children’s book to be published was Uncle Shelby's Story of Lafcadio: the Lion Who Shot Back. A year later, he wrote two more books, A Giraffe and a Half and The Giving Tree. The Giving Tree was a bestseller and became Silverstein's most popular book. The book is about a boy and a tree. As the boy grows up, he has less time for the tree but more of a need for what the tree can give him.

In 1974, Silverstein wrote a collection of poems for kids called Where the Sidewalk Ends.  The book features over 100 poems and black and white illustrations. The poems are creative and funny. There are poems about a boy who turns into a television set, a girl who eats a whale and a crocodile that goes to the dentist.  It is one of his most popular books.

Two years later, Silverstein wrote The Missing Piece, about a circle with a wedge of itself missing. The circle searches for the missing part and eventually finds it. The circle realizes that the search for the missing piece brought more happiness than finding it.

In 1981, The Light in the Attic was published. This was Silverstein’s second collection of poems for children. It contains funny poems accompanied by drawings. This book brought Silverstein even more recognition as a poet. It was on the New York Times newspaper’s bestseller list for over three years. Shel went on to win several awards for this book.

In the 1990s, Silverstein continued his work and began writing plays. In all he wrote twenty plays. He also wrote Falling Up and Draw a Skinny Elephant during this time. In May 1999, Silverstein died from a heart attack in Key West, Florida. Some of his work was released after his death.



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