Shel Silverstein rediscovered

We’ve been camping a few times this spring. Inevitably, sitting around the campfire, I’ll be compelled to break into a round of crooning to my girlfriend:

I honestly can’t remember the first time I heard that song (specifically Tompall Glaser’s version for The Outlaws album) as a child. It seems like I was born knowing it.

But it wasn’t untill a few minutes ago that I realized the author of my all-time favorite children’s book, The Giving Tree, and written that song.

Or that he’d also written A Boy Named Sue, or accomplished even a fraction of what Shel Silverstein shared with the world during his life.

Or that he could pen such enjoyable romps as The Perfect High and I got stoned and I missed it.

Even if I had somehow heard his name associated with folk music, I’m sure I just assumed it wasn’t THE Shel Silverstein.

Learn something new every day.

I once read"Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out" to a class of second-graders. It was a big hit with the kiddies–I will always remember one boy going “Wow” in a voice of total awe at the description of the garbage pile.

I recently pulled out my copies of Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic and put them out of my coffee table. Everyone who’s come over has said, “Oh, WOW! I haven’t read these in years!” and starts poring though them.

My favorite book by him has got to be The Giving Tree. What a beautiful story.

I know there are lots of feeling both ways regarding The Giving Tree… I don’t particularly love it or hate it, but A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends are both wonderfull collections. Got them on the bookshelf right next to me, with scraps of paper sticking out between the pages of poems I particularly like.

Silverstein also wrote adult poetry that was published in Playboy, Uncle Shelby’s ABZ Book, a parody of those kid activity books, and was a cartoonist for Playboy for many years.
One of my favorites: a businessman is eating a hot dog he’s just bought from a street vendor, and looking at a sign atop the vendor’s cart. It reads:
Dine and Dance
explains the vendor:

“Well, you can if you want to.”

There was a thread about him not too long ago… Ah, here

Much of his stuff was definitely not for kids:


I love Shel Silverstein. The best song he wrote for Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show couldn’t get on the radio. Too bad.

I’m gonna throw it out the window (someday)
Give away my cocaine
Bust my spikes and flush a million mikes of acid right down the drain
And we’ll be makin’ it natural
But don’t you ask me how
It’s the cause of all my sorrow but I think I’ll start tomorrow
'Cos I sure could use a hit right now…

Regarding the Giving Tree, here’s a past thread with several comments about their hate for the book.

I also think it is a horrible message for a children’s book. I do love Shel’s other work however.

I had no idea it was so universally reviled. It’s been a very long time since I read it. Maybe I should try to find a copy and reread it.

While in hindsight I can see the interpretation of the tree as a parental metaphor, being the good Northern California enviro-hippy child that I was, I’ve always interpreted the tree as a metaphor for Nature, and the boy as a metaphor for humankind.

Either way, I consider it as a sad cautionary tale, and a very good one.

I like honeydewgrrl’s interpretation. Shel was a genius.


I meant to rationalize the Nature metaphor…

The boy’s parents would no longer be around when he became an old old man who just needed a place to sit, but Nature would be.

By the way, today my son was doing dishes and dropped a glass. Somehow, in cleaning it up, he managed to cut his hand, and since he was already upset about breaking the glass, he began to cry. I cheered him up by reciting from memory:

If you have to dry the dishes
Such an awful boring chore
If you have to dry the dishes
'Stead of going to the store
If you have to dry the dishes
And you drop one on the floor
Maybe they won’t let you
Dry the dishes anymore.

The Giving Tree is complex and ambivialant–like most literature. It’s the single best way I know to start showing children they should question everything they read, not just accept the narrative view.

It hurts to read, but it’s suppossed to.

On a less controversial note, I thought Shel’s last children’s book, Runny Babbit (a collection of short poems told in Spoonerism rhyme) was harmless fun, even if some of the anciliary characters can be jerkish at times. :wink:

I cry every damn time I read The Giving Tree, and I love it.

What cracks me up is that Shel was the scariest looking motherfucker ever to grace the inside cover of a children’s book! Seriously! :eek:

It was the scariest picture ever (the one that was used for The Giving Tree). Especially since it looked exactly like my best friend’s dad…

“Cover Of The Rolling Stone” actually manages to take cynicism all the way back around to genuine enthusiasm.

I was reading my daughter’s “Knot Magazine” in the bathroom the other day (why we get them I don’t know, she was married 2 year’s ago :dubious: ) and found this quote about wedding vows:

“Consider lightening the tone by sharing passages from books you loved as kids, such as the … or The Giving Tree.” :eek:

I love me some Shel S., but I hated the Giving Tree, I always wanted to take an axe to the guy in the story. Oh, wait, maybe that was the point. :smack: