Sunday Spotlight On: Shel Silverstein

Weekends are going to be all about spotlights here during Chicago Author Month! Saturday was my inaugural publisher spotlight. Sundays will be something a little different. Sundays will spotlight either a book I’m dying to read but couldn’t fit a review of in, or a very special author. Today I’m going with the ‘very special author’ format.

When I first decided to devote a month to Chicago-area authors, I asked the lovely Jill from Fizzy Thoughts to do what she does so well, and write a song for me, this one to the tune of Sinatra’s “My Kind of Town.” What I didn’t expect, when I commissioned the song, was that Jill would introduce me Chicago authors I didn’t know about with it. One was Sara Paretsky, who I now can’t believe I hadn’t heard of before – look for a review of her latest book coming later this month – and the other was Shel Silverstein.

Now, of course Silverstein wasn’t actually a new-to-me author. I grew up on and adored “The Light in the Attic” and “Where the Sidewalk Ends.” I also enjoyed “The Giving Tree,” “The Missing Piece,” and “The Missing Piece Meets the Big O,” although they were not as near and dear to my heart as his poetry – I still remember my family’s excitement when “Falling Up” was published in 1996. What I did not know was that he was born and grew up in Chicago, even attending the Art Institute for a year and being published for the first time in the student newspaper at Roosevelt University.

I spent countless hours in grade school with Shel Silverstein’s books of highly entertaining, occasionally slightly disgusting poetry. They were an integral part of my childhood, really. So, you can imagine that I was slightly disturbed to read that he was at one point a cartoonist for Playboy magazine. Really, though, it was Silverstein’s editor at Harper & Row who even convinced him to write children’s poetry in the first place, his initial love was cartooning.

Thank goodness for editors, I suppose, because I am eternally thankful that I had the gift of Shel Silverstein’s poetry as a child.