The many books of Shelby Silverstein are perennial favorites with children, who find his poems, and the cartoonish drawings that accompany them, deliriously funny.
In the 1950s, Silverstein was a cartoonist for the military newspaper Stars and Stripes. Once out of the armed services in 1956, he joined Playboy magazine as a cartoonist. His first book for children, Uncle Shelby's Story of Lafcadio, the Lion Who Shot Back, was published in 1963, but it was with The Giving Tree (1964) that his name became prominent as a writer for children. The story of a tree that progressively gives its all — its shade, then its fruit, branches, and trunk-to gratify a little boy, it was interpreted by many adults as a moral tale. Where the Sidewalk Ends (1974) and A Light in the Attic (1981) — both collections of daffy poems with equivalent illustrations — have been praised as the contemporary equals of the works of Edward Lear and Dr. Seuss. After a hiatus of a decade and a half Silverstein was back in fine form, and on the best-seller lists, with another children's book, Falling Up (1996). Runny Babbit: A Billy Sook (2005) is a book with rollicking letter-reversal wordplay, published posthumously.
Silverstein wrote a number of plays for adults, as well as a screenplay (Things Change, 1988) with David Mamet. He was also an experienced folksinger, a song composer (he wrote the Johnny Cash hit "A Boy Named Sue" in 1969), and a lyricist.
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