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Silverstein: The Author and the Artist

“Tell me I’m clever,
Tell me I’m kind,
Tell me I’m talented,
Tell me I’m cute,
Tell me I’m sensitive,
Graceful and Wise
Tell me I’m perfect–
But tell me the TRUTH.” 

Sheldon Allan Silverstein, known as Shel Silverstein, was born in Chicago in 1932.  Apart from children’s books, he wrote a popular songs for performers like Johnny Cash, Dr. Hook, and Waylon Jennings. He passed away at his home in Florida on May 9, 1999, affecting many young readers, including myself.

Since his death more of his work has been published, including “Runny Babbit” and another poetry anthology Everything On It. Every time I see another of his books, it reminds me how dedicated he was to his art.

Silverstein illustrated his own stories and poems with his own quirky black and white drawings. His illustrations are in ink and the cartoon-like style appears as if a child drew it.

In the book Where the Sidewalk Ends, the illustrations really help explain the poem as well as make the poems even more humorous. Some of the poems refer to something, and without the illustration, the humor would be lost, such as in the poem Melinda Mae. Throughout the book the pictures add wit and emphasize on the absurdities of the text. Since the media is in ink and no color, the pictures are not overly stressed, placing most of the importance on the wording.

This is not so in The Giving Tree. Here, the drawings are more emphasized, not by adding color, but by taking up most of the pages in simple and evocative illustrations. In the beginning, the boy is young and the tree is full and healthy looking. The boy grows into a man while the tree deteriorates. If not for these pictures, the emotions would not be as strong at the end of the book.

One illustration in specific, touched me. It shows an old wrinkly man sitting on the stump of a tree with the initials of M.E. and T. that he carved so long ago. This picture accompanies the words “Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and rest. And the boy did.” The picture and words together wrench the readers’ heart out and leaves them with a bittersweet sadness.

This illustration is simple, and would not be necessarily considered a piece of art, but the reader can see and feel the love put into this story by looking at the picture.

I feel that although the pictures are not as beautiful as those in other books, the feeling that they emit are more raw and therefore more appropriate for this book. In general I love looking through all of Silverstein’s books and laughing, or crying. His books will be cherished forever, and the power of his illustration, always felt.