Shel Silverstein

Shel Silverstein

You probably know his children's books. He has three huge books of silly poems, including Where The Sidewalk Ends, and lots of storybooks, like The Giving Tree. He drew the pictures in these, too. One of his poems became part of Free To Be… You and Me, a movie and album about being boys and girls on which Mel Brooks did another one of the skits.

Shel's family recently republished Where the Sidewalk Ends for its 30th anniversary, with a dozen newly found poems! AND they published TWO WHOLE NEW BOOKS of poems.  One is about a bunny rabbit named Runny Babbit. It's a very billy sook- buy it for a pirthday bresent! They also just published his very first collection of poems, about a bunch of weird animals, called Don't Bump the Glump.

Shelby Silverstein- that's his full name- was born in 1932 in Chicago. He first achieved fame as the number-one baseball-game hot-dog vendor in Chicago!

Then he served as a soldier in Japan and Korea, where he began cartooning for the Army newspaper, Stars and Stripes. Later, he drew cartoons for Sports Illustrated.

He wrote many poems, but also songs. He wrote the song A Boy Named Sue, a hit for country superstar Johnny Cash, and that put him in the Country Music Hall of Fame! And his song The Unicorn is about Noah's Ark; it was a hit for an Irish band.

Shel also wrote songs that ended up in hit movies like Almost Famous and Thelma and Louise. Not only did he write songs, but he could sing and play them too. He had a dozen albums, mostly of silly songs, and also played banjo with a silly group called (deep breath) Papa Bue's Danish Viking New Orleans Jazz Band.

To find out more about Shel Silverstein, go to your nearest library or bookstore!


Do you like poetry? Lots of great poets have been Jewish, going all the way back to King David, who wrote the Psalms.

The president appoints an official poet for America called the Poet Laureate (say: Laurie-ette), and some of these poets have been Jewish. Joseph Brodsky was one, and he also won the Nobel Prize. Robert Pinsky was another, and he just wrote a great book about... King David! Karl Shapiro, who wote a whole book of poems about being Jewish, was Poet Laureate before that was the name of the job-- back then it was Offical Poet of the Library of Congress. He also won a Pultizer Prize.

Some great American Jewish poets have been women, too, like Dorothy Parker. But the most American of all Jewish poets has to be Emma Lazarus-- she wrote the poem that's on the base of the Statue of Liberty! You know: "Give me your tired, your poor... I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Bonus Bonus:

Shel is not just a poet, of course, but a cartoonist. Another silly cartoonist who used line drawings was Al Hirschfeld.

See, there are lots of ways to know you’ve “made it” in showbiz beyond the award ceremonies. You could get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, have your handprints set in the cement sidewalk at Grauman’s Chinese Theater, get roasted by the Friar’s Club (see this Bonus), or get on The Tonight Show. You could get a Muppet or Simpsons version of yourself, or have Weird Al parody one of your songs, get made fun of by Don Rickels, or get your photo taken by classy Richard Avedon or quirky Annie Liebowitz (both Jewish!).

Another way was to have your caricature (like a cartoon) drawn by Jewish illustrator Al Hirschfeld. His drawings are instantly recognizable. They are just black ink on white paper, mostly curly lines with no shadows or shading. But they always reveal the inner soul of whomever they depict. And they are usually pretty funny, too, but never really mean.

Al only had one kid, a daughter named Nina. Along with signing his name, Al hid the letters N-I-N-A in almost all of his portraits of stage and movie stars. Except, in a picture of Nina herself, he hid his own name and that of her mom, Dolly. Al was born in St. Louis. He studied drawing and sculpture in New York, London, and Paris. He started drawing for The New York Times.

In an amazing 80-year career, All drew almost every famous person you can think of, including politicians. He would draw bunches of people at once, too, like all the stars in one play or TV show... the whole cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation... and even the band Aerosmith for a cover of one of their albums (titled, of course, Draw the Line!).

Al also did movie posters, all the way back to the silent era of movies, and including the original Wizard of Oz poster! Speaking of movies, charatcers like Al’s drawings came to life in a segment of Fantasia 2000... and there was even a documentary about him called The Line King.

The, in 1991, the Post Office decided on stamps to honro American comics, and asked Al to draw them! The Jewish ones included Jack Benny (see this Bonus), Fanny Brice (see this Bonus), and Bud Abbott of Abbot and Costello.

Al’s work is on display at major art museums. And they named a Broadway theater after Al, too. The draw-er of stars had “made it” to star status himself!

» Read more about Shel!

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