Biography and Works of Sheldon Alan Silverstein

Topics: Ned Kelly

We all will miss our favorite poet who passed away from a heart attack on May 10, 1999 (McCloud). Through works as varied as the colors of an autumn day, he has entertained a variety of audiences since the launch of his career. He will be remembered for generations to come through the joy that he will continue to bring to children and adults through his life’s work.

Sheldon Alan “Shelly” Silverstein, most commonly known as Shel Silverstein, was born in Chicago, Illinois, on September 25.

His birth year has been reported as both 1930, and 1932. He is best known in children’s literature for his poetry; however, he was also a cartoonist, composer, Lyricist and folksinger (McCloud). His poem, “The Unicorn Song” was recorded by the Irish Rovers. Other hit songs included “A Boy Named Sue”, recorded by Johnny Cash, and “The Cover of the Rollin’ Stone” by Dr. Hook. He composed the music for the movies, Ned Kelly, Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Such Terrible Things About Me?, and Thieves.

He composed music for the film, Postcards from the Edge for which he received a nomination for an Academy Award in Music for the song, “I’m Checkin Out.” A man of many talents, he co-wrote the screenplay for the film, Things Change with David Mamet (Hedblad, 210-23).

Silverstein began writing as a young boy in Chicago. Although he would rather have been playing baseball or chasing girls, he could not catch or hit a ball, and the girls were not interested in him.

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He gave his energies to writing. He developed his unique writing style at a young age and was unfamiliar with the poetry of the great poets of his time. Silverstein was quoted: “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 Steinberg. I never saw their work until I was around thirty (Hedblad, 213-215).”

Silverstein’s work goes beyond writing children’s literature. He began his career as a writer and cartoonist for an adult magazine in 1952. He had served as a member of the U.S. military forces in Japan and Korea during the 1950’s (Kirkpatrick, 113-14). While in the military, he was a cartoonist for the military newsletter, Pacific Stars and Stripes. In 1980, he produced a new folksong album entitled The Great Conch Train Robbery. His first play, The Lady or the Tiger Show, was produced at the Ensemble Studio Theater’s annual festival of one act plays (McCloud).

Silverstein never planned on writing and drawing for children (Ward, 13). His friend, Tomi Ungerer, brought him to author Ursula Nordstom’s office where she convinced him to do children’s books (McCloud). One of his earliest and most successful books, The Giving Tree, was rejected by editor William Cole. Cole felt that the book fell between adults’ and children’s literature and would never sell. In Silverstein’s eyes, it was a story about two people; one gives and the other takes. Ultimately, both adults and children embraced the book. He hoped that people, no matter what age, could identify with his other books as well. His works include Falling Up, Where the Sidewalk Ends, A Light in the Attic, The Missing Piece, and The Missing Piece Meets the Big O. He won awards for all three books: The Michigan Young Readers Award for Where the Sidewalk Ends in 1981; a School Library Journal Best Books Award in 1982 for A Light in the Attic, and an International Reading Association’s Children’s Choices Award for The Missing Piece Meets the Big O (Hedblad, 215-217).

A man of many talents, Silverstein wrote to reach out to as many people as he could with his writing. “I would hope that people, no matter what age, would find something to identify with in my books, pick one up and experience a personal sense of discover. That’s great. But for them, not for me” (Kirkpatrick, 116).

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Biography and Works of Sheldon Alan Silverstein. (2021, Dec 25). Retrieved from

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