Sunday, September 25, 2016

Birthday: "To me, freedom entitles you to do something, not to not do something."

shel silverstein.jpg

Draw a crazy picture,
Write a nutty poem
Sing a mumble-gumble song,
Whistle through your comb.
Do a Loony-goony dance
‘Cross the kitchen floor,
Put something silly in the world
That ain’t been there before.

Sheldon Allan Silverstein (1930-1998)
Author, playwright, poet, songwriter

Shel Silverstein started cartooning at seven. The Writer’s Almanac notes, “As a youngster himself, he wanted to play baseball or be popular with girls, Silverstein once said, but he couldn't play ball and he couldn't dance. So he wrote and drew to occupy himself, developing a signature style and wit that would delight children all over the world.”

He started getting his work published in Stars & Stripes after he was drafted to serve in the Korean War. Later, he was selling hotdogs at Chicago ballparks and writing on spec when, in his mid-twenties, a collection of his Army cartoons came out in paperback and was picked up by Ballantine Books.

He became a cartoonist for Playboy in 1957; the magazine, in its heyday, was his home base for twenty years. He did a long series of offbeat illustrated travelogues for the magazine, which sent him to odd places around the globe.

In the 1970s his book editor, the legendary Ursula Nordstrom, talked Silverstein into trying a children’s book of poetry. It was an immediate hit, and Silverstein’s loopy, Feifferesque illustrations combined with his offbeat verse to create a new market in kids’ publishing.

He wrote over 100 one-act plays, collaborating with the likes of Jean Shepherd and David Mamet; TV and movie screenplays; and scores of hit pop and country songs.

Silverstein is best remembered today as a children’s author; his books in that genre- including The Light in the Attic, The Giving Tree, and A Giraffe and A Half- remain in print and have sold over twenty million copies. They are also regular targets of book-banners, most of them the people who adore his country music songs, like “A Boy Named Sue.”

The circus train made an ice cream stop
At the fifty-two-flavor ice cream stand.
The animals all got off the train
And walked right up to the ice cream man.
“I’ll take Vanilla,” yelled the gorilla.
“I’ll take Chocolate,” shouted the ocelot.
  “I’ll take the Strawberry,” chirped the canary.
     “Rocky Road,” croaked the toad.
        “Lemon and Lime,” growled the lion.
     Said the ice cream man, “‘Til I see a dime.
  You’ll get no ice cream of mine.”
Then the animals snarled and screeched and growled
And whinnied and whimpered and hooted and howled
And gobbled up the whole ice cream stand,
All fifty-two flavors
(Fifty-three with Ice Cream Man).

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