Shel Silverstein: Adult Ideas in a Child's Language

On May 8th, 1999 beloved children's book author Shel Silverstein died leaving a legacy as a literary trailblazer for presenting grown-up issues to children in a palatable way.
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On May 8th, 1999 beloved children's book author Shel Silverstein died leaving a legacy as a literary trailblazer for presenting grown-up issues to children in a palatable way.

Shel Silverstein posing for a photo. August 21, 1968. (Getty)

Shel Silverstein posing for a photo. August 21, 1968. (Getty)

May 8th marks the passing of beloved children's book author Shel Silverstein. It's interesting to look back at his life and realize he had never planned on being a writer. Instead, Silverstein is quoted as saying he "would much rather have been a good baseball player or a hit with the girls." And while only one of those is a viable career choice, he noted that he had talents for either. But soon he realized that he could draw and write. This talent took him from cartoons in the Pacific edition of Stars and Stripes, a military newspaper, to the lascivious pages of Playboy.

But according to Silverstein, it was a friend, Tomi Ungerer, who "practically dragged me kicking and screaming, into [editor] Ursula Nordstrom's office. And [Nordstrom] convinced me that Tomi was right, I could do children's books."

Yet as much as Silverstein's creations have been lauded, they've also been equally criticized for introducing adult themes into children's publications. His first major success, The Giving Tree, was rejected for exactly that. But ultimately, that's what led to Silverstein's success; he was a literary trailblazer for presenting grown-up issues to children in a palatable way.