Silverstein: A Man Named Shel

Last night, while I lay thinking here,
Some Whatifs crawled inside my ear
And pranced and partied all night long
And sang their same old Whatif song:
Whatif I flunk that test?
Whatif green hair grows on my chest?
Whatif nobody likes me?
Whatif a bolt of lightning strikes me?…

from A Light in the Attic


When asked many years ago what he most wanted out of life, Shel Silverstein answered, “Everything.” It was a characteristic answer from this elusive, legendary artist who was born in Chicago on September 25, 1930 and died in Key West on May 10, 1999. He wanted everything out of life, but like the famous subject of his classic book, The Giving Tree, he gave everything he had to give, and kept giving till he was gone.

I don’t know why, but Paul Zollo, for American Songwriter, has given us a profile of Shel Silverstein today. Though I suppose there really doesn’t need to be a reason for praising a man of such talents. While the article centers on Shel’s songwriting abilities it does touch on his other accomplishments.

Given the adult nature of so much of his writing and his cartoons, it’s ironic that he’s best known for writing children’s books. As with his songwriting, writing books for kids was never anything he intended to do, and it only happened because a friend talked hi into it. When he created The Giving Tree, it was initially rejected for publication because some felt it was too sophisticated for children and not enough for adults. That assessment was obviously far from the truth, as the book went on to earn several literary awards, and is now considered one of the true classics of the genre. Soon Shel was on par with Dr. Seuss and Maurice Sendak in creating books as vividly unconfined and creative as the actual imagination of children.

Elsewhere is a gallery of The Amazing Cartoon World of Shel Silverstein,
and be sure to check out



2 thoughts on “Silverstein: A Man Named Shel

  1. I’ve always liked and respected Silverstein’s work but think “The Giving Tree” is kind of horrifying. Like, whatever entertainment and education you imagine a children’s book might provide, it does the opposite of that, and not in a funny charming way like Gorey. Probably psychologically messed up millions of kids for the rest of their lives. But he was a great talent!

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