From The Giving Tree To Winning Grammys: The Impact of Poet Shel Silverstein

Shel Silverstein was an American cartoonist, playwright, poet, and Grammy-award-winning songwriter. With his silly songs and profound poetry, he has become one of the most influential poets.

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Shel Silverstein was born into a Jewish family in Chicago in September 1930. He began drawing cartoons at a young age. Eventually, his cartoons would be featured in publications such as Sports Illustrated, Playboy, and This Week. His first book Take Ten was a militaristic cartoon compilation. Silverstein also worked on tv screenplays, drama productions, and music throughout his career. Arguably, his most notable career achievements are writing the children’s book The Giving Tree, and the poetry books Where The Sidewalk Ends and A Light In The Attic. Where The Sidewalk Ends was adapted to a children’s album and won a grammy award in 1985. Silverstein also won a grammy for writing the Johnny Cash song “A Boy Named Sue.”

What Makes Silverstein’s Poetry Unique?

Shel Silverstein’s poetry is full of outlandish characters, quirky language, and imaginative circumstances. His poetry is simple yet silly, which makes it great for children. His words can have a great effect on kids and the sheer amount of work that Silverstein produced has allowed him to remain a prevalent writer and artist. While many of his poems seem like silly nonsense, many of them teach valuable lessons. Let’s take a look at two of Silverstein’s poems “Falling Up” and “The Voice”:


Although “Falling Up” seems a bit silly, it can serve to introduce children to poetry and different poetic styles. Through its use of repetition, clever wordplay, and imagery, the poem creates an enjoyable reading experience that might make someone want to read more of Silverstein’s work.


“The Voice” is a little bit of a deeper poem. Despite its fun rhyme scheme, the poem reminds kids (and all readers) that it is up to you to make good choices. These ‘life lesson’ style poems are another facet as to what makes Silverstein’s work so impactful on youth. By disguising such important themes in seemingly light children’s poetry, Silverstein is able to grab the attention of young people and make them listen. Even if it was not his intention, Silverstein’s work has taught and influenced many.


An Admirable Legacy

Although Shel Silverstein passed away in 1999, his work is still celebrated today. Some of his work, including over 100 poems, were published posthumously. Silverstein’s children’s book Runny Babbit was published in 2005 and is full of wordplay and fun. The Giving Tree has been translated to over 30 different languages and has sold over 20 million copies worldwide. Shel Silverstein influenced multiple facets of pop culture and wrote children’s books that remain in classrooms and libraries to this day, which we think earns him the title of one of the most influential poets of all time. 

To read about other influential poets, click here!