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

Nithya Venkat loves to read books and write biographies about authors who have captured her heart.

Shel Silverstein

Shel Silverstein

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

He was an American songwriter, poet, author of children's books, musician, composer, cartoonist, and playwright. His writings ranged from being funny and 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 30 languages. It is still one of 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.

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

During his time in the army, he served on 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.

Cartoon Series

Shel Silverstein decided to submit his cartoons to various magazines after returning to Chicago. His cartoon submissions were featured in 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 1956.

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

In the year 1950, he 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.

The Poet

In 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 1976, he introduced a new picture book called The Missing Piece.

The Missing Piece was a story about a circle searching for a missing wedge. 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 passed, Silverstein published another book called Different Dances. The Light in the Attic, however, was the one book that catapulted Silverstein to recognition as a great poet.

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

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Read More From Owlcation

Shel Silverstein - A Profound Writer

Shel Silverstein - A Profound Writer

Author of Children's Books

Shel Silverstein published his first book, Uncle Shelby's Story of Lafcadio: The Lion Who Shot Back, in 1963.

However, The Giving Tree was the book that brought recognition as an author of children's books. The book was rejected by Editor William Cole, but it was later published by Harper Collins and became a huge success.

Beautifully written and illustrated by Silverstein, The Giving Tree is a story about a boy who visits a 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 offer.

Listen to the Voice

Listen to the Voice

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 were a hit among his fans. Some of them were:

  • "A Boy Named Sue" sung by Johnny Cash
  • "One's on the Way" and "The Unicorn" sung by The Irish Rovers
  • "Sylvia's Mother" and "I Don't Want to Be Alone Tonight," sung by Dr. Hook

Shel Silverstein also 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 About Me?.

He also penned 100 plays, to name a few: The Lady or the Tiger Show, One Tennis Shoe, Bus Stop, Going Once, The Best Daddy, and The Lifeboat Is Sinking.

Shel Silverstein strumming his guitar

Shel Silverstein strumming his guitar

Personal Life

Shel Silverstein married Susan Hastings. They had a daughter named Shoshanna on June 30, 1970; Shoshanna died at the age of 11, unfortunately, when she was affected by a cerebral aneurysm.

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

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 Postcards From the Edge. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2002 posthumously.

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


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2015 Nithya Venkat


Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on September 19, 2016:

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

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on September 18, 2016:

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.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on May 21, 2016:

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

Ann Carr from SW England on May 21, 2016:

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.


Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on March 07, 2016:

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

Audrey Howitt from California on March 05, 2016:

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

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on January 19, 2016:

DDE thank you for your visit and comment.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on January 19, 2016:

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

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on January 04, 2016:

ChitrangadaSharan thank you, Shel Silverstein is truly talented.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on January 04, 2016:

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!

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on December 24, 2015:

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

Nell Rose from England on December 23, 2015:

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

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on December 22, 2015:

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

Geri McClymont on December 22, 2015:

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!

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on December 12, 2015:

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

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on December 12, 2015:

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

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on December 12, 2015:

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!

Suzette Walker from Taos, NM on December 12, 2015:

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!

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on December 09, 2015:

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

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on December 09, 2015:

Great work! Informative and always interesting from you.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on December 08, 2015:

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

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on December 07, 2015:

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

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on December 07, 2015:

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

agusfanani from Indonesia on December 06, 2015:

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

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on December 06, 2015:

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.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on December 06, 2015:

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.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on December 06, 2015:

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

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on December 06, 2015:

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.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on December 06, 2015:

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 from USA on December 05, 2015:

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 from Saginaw, Michigan on December 05, 2015:

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

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on December 05, 2015:

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!

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on December 05, 2015:

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.

Howard Schneider from Parsippany, New Jersey on December 05, 2015:

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

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