As a widely recognized children’s poet, it is hard to believe that Silverstein never intended on writing for children. His books would become available in over 30 languages and recommended all over the world as one of the most beloved children’s poets of all time, but he might not have gotten his start in this sort of work if it hadn’t been for Tomi Ungerer and his editor Ursula Nordstrom. Tomi’s career in children’s literature was blossoming and the introduction to Ursula led to the publication of the Giving Tree in 1964, which would soon remain on the top of best seller lists all around the world.
He was born in Chicago on September 25, 1930, and although his popularity would be enormous in the years to come, even as a child, he preferred to say little or nothing about himself. He developed a particular style that was not emulated by an inspiration for anyone else. Silverstein had simply acquired a personal method of expression that was exclusively his. (Sorce)
Silverstein’s imaginative mind
Silverstein will perhaps always be remembered for his unique way of connecting with children in his books and poetry. One of his most popular works was the story about a boy and a tree who loved him called the giving tree. It took four years for his publisher to agree to publish it and everybody loved it. He kept the sad ending because in life there are not always happy endings. It resonated with children and adults alike.
Uncle Shelby’s zoo, don’t bump the glump and other fantasies became his first collection of poems in 1964, a book that combined Silverstein’s unique humor and creative mind as he cleverly brought to life a collection of comical and frightening animals. It was followed in 1974, with where the sidewalk ends, a collection of poetry in which Silverstein encouraged children to aim for the unattainable and challenge themselves to believe in anything they set their minds to. That was then followed by his third and most popular collection of poetry a light in the attic, in 1981. In this book, Silverstein persuaded the reader to ignore the hypothetical and enjoy the goofy things in life. It became the first children’s book to land on the New York Times best seller list, where it would remain for 182 weeks.
He would go on to publish one more book of poetry Falling up, before his death. Silverstein died on May 10, 1999 when a heart attack claimed his life in Key West, Florida, one of his favorite places to travel. (Source). For those that are not familiar with his poetry, I recommend the following to get started…
Readers can find the poem online here. The poem comes from his most popular book a light in the attic and deals most specifically with the topic of unconscious fears that could potentially pop into a child’s head when they are sleeping.
“What if there’s poison in my cup?
What if I start to cry?
What if I get sick and die?”
Silverstein skillfully considers the many questions that could potentially plague a child and matches it with his unique brand of humor.
“What if they start a war?
What if my parents get divorced?
What if the bus is late?
What if my teeth don’t grow in straight?
What if I tear my pants?
What if I never learn to dance?
Everything seems swell and then
The night time what- if’s” strike again.”
Readers may find the poem online here. The poetry comes from the book where the sidewalk ends and deals with a topic that just about every child and adult alike has tried at least once…faking sick.
“I can not go to school today
Said little Peggy Ann McKay”
Silverstein brilliantly goes through a list of rather absurd excuses that a child attempts to fake in order to get out of school but the highlight of the poem comes at the end…when the child realizes that it is indeed a weekend…causing the reader to both laugh and cry as the story resonates with their own lives.
“What’s that you say?
You say today is Saturday?
G’bye, I’m going out to play.”