Fun Fact Friday: Shel Silverstein

Did you know that Shel Silverstein, the children’s book author, poet, and illustrator, also wrote Johnny Cash’s hit song, “A Boy Named Sue”? It’s true!

Silverstein was, prior to writing his well-known children’s books (The most famous being Where the Sidewalk Ends and The Giving Tree.) a Korean War veteran, and was first published in the military publication Pacific Stars and Stripes. He continued to write and illustrate for a variety of other publications, such as Sports Illustrated. His first major success came in 1964, with The Giving Tree. The poems and drawings from Where the Sidewalk Ends (and later, A Light in the Attic) were mainstays in elementary schools from the 1980?s onward. Some of the poems emphasized personal responsibility, like “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout (Would Not Take The Garbage Out)” and some were just plain silly, like “(I’m Being Eaten by a) Boa Constrictor”, but all were embraced by adults and children alike.

It’s not surprising that, given Silverstein’s considerable poetic talents, he was also an accomplished songwriter. Aside from “A Boy Named Sue”, he also penned “25 Minutes to Go” (also performed by Cash) and “Father of a Boy Named Sue” (which he performed on the Johnny Cash Show). He composed songs for (and with) artists such as Loretta Lynn, Gordon Lightfoot, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, and also wrote the majority of the music and lyrics for the songs recorded by the group Dr. Hook.

Another fun fact about Shel Silverstein is that he had a final say in the quality of the physical volume of his books. He mostly likely would not have been a fan of e-readers, such as the Kindle and Nook, as Silverstein believed books should be published on good quality paper, and was very picky about the size, shape, color, and feel of the paper in his books. He also rarely allowed his books to be published in paperback because he felt that it diminished his work. Anyone who’s ever held one of his books would not be surprised by this fact, as they were indeed quality volumes, and were made to be treasured by generations to come.

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