Shel Silverstein Follow-Up

Remember when I said Shel Silverstein would be upset if he saw this horrible, creepy picture of himself was on the back of “The Giving Tree”?

I was wrong.

I had no idea when I wrote my first post that my cousin Rachel had a Shel Silverstein connection back when he was still alive. She worked at HarperCollins Children’s Books and handled some of Shel’s stuff. What are the odds? 

Now, here’s the craziest thing I could think of in relation to a creepy author portrait like that: Rachel says that Shel picked out that picture himself!

Rachel says:

I worked at HarperCollins Children’s Books while Shel was still alive, and believe it or not, that photo was on The Giving Tree even then. It actually pretty much sums up his personality. Amazing books, but very elusive, not warm or fuzzy , and if I recall, refused to allow us to send him the cartons of fan mail he received. Is the photo even more scary since he chose it?

According to Rachel, “Shel controlled everything about the publication and reprints of his books– right down to how heavy he required the paper to be.”

It sort of changes the way you think about Shel Silverstein, no? I mean, what kind of person picks a creepy picture like that to represent themselves on the back of their beloved children’s classic?

When you combine this knowledge with the fact that he did a lot of cartooning for “Playboy” in the 1950s and ’60s, suddenly you see Shel Silverstein in a whole new light. Before now, I always envisioned Silverstein as the cuddly, grandfather type with a wicked sense of humor, but apparently this wasn’t so much the case. Mind-boggling, no?

Anyway, food for thought. If nothing else, it’s hilarious to me that anyone would pick that awful picture to represent themselves on the back of a book. Maybe he thought it was funny how scary-looking the picture is? It certainly made ME laugh.

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21 Responses to Shel Silverstein Follow-Up

  1. icetrout

    Shel was someone you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley. / Was a cool thing to be back before the gentrifration of the seeder urban areas took place.

  2. mary hart

    When my daughter was a little girl she would not hold the book in her lap because she didn’t want his face touching her. Now her daughter is 10 months old and whenever the book is left face up on the floor she sits on his face.

  3. Tom C

    The “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series has a great bit about that picture. I think it was in book three. The main character Greg Heffley admits to having been scared of the picture as a kid. They include a cartoonish but very accurate rendering of Shel’s photo. As I was reading it to my daughter I could barely breathe from laughing so hard. It was dead on!

  4. soumax

    the guy looks like an ax murderer to me. but i just love the book.

  5. Serena

    When I saw the picture I remembered ,it was from “Diary Of a Wimpy Kid The Last Straw” It was so funny !!I was reading it to my little sister.She even got scared of the cartoon !!

  6. Tom C

    If could post the Diary of a Wimpy Kid picture I would!

  7. Lmaster 753

    Dude, that guy looks more like Blackbeard than a guy who should be writing books for kids.

  8. Sophie Darius Hunter

    My daughter was rather traumatized by the photo of Shel Silverstein in the back of the book “The Giving Tree”. She asked us to remove the dust sheet with the photo on it!

  9. Leslie Barouch

    For nostalgic value, my 19 year old son just took out “Where The Sidewalk Ends” and started reading it. He asked where the dustcover was and I had to think for a minute because we usually keep those on. THEN I remembered the ax murderer picture. I threw it away because I didn’t want my young kids to be frightened of such a good book! Couldn’t do it with “The Giving Tree” though because that didn’t have a dustcover.

  10. Joe Cassara

    Often, you have to separate yourself from the author of your favorite works and just enjoy their output. The same is true for consumer products. It doesn’t matter to the iPad loving conservative that Steve Jobs is a liberal.

  11. Hostrauser

    Shel is famous for his children’s books, but some of his adult writing is even better. For Playboy magazine, Shel rewrote Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” in the street-slang of the 60s and 70s. It is a mind-bogglingly brilliant and creative work (but definitely not for kids!).

  12. Brian

    Don’t forget this is also the same guy who wrote the songs “A Boy Named Sue” and “I Never Went To Bed With An Ugly Woman (But I Sure Woke Up With A Few.”

    • Jim Anderson

      …And the song “I Got Stoned and I Missed It” and poem “I Met Polly at a Porno With Her Pony” (or is that a song too?). I wonder if his wonderful children’s poems at least to some extent serve the purpose of coming to terms with childhood brutality….I just wonder. Even if he looked like Pat Boone I’d think he had some serious demons. It’s his eyes. They seen to exude a sad, hurt, burdened quality.

  13. I just rec’d the book for Christmas from an adult grandson. He knows that I read stories to the children in our church’s day care center. I have glued a sheet of paper over the back of the book so as not to traumatize the children when I’m reading the book to them…seriously. It’s just too weird that he chose that picture. I googled his name and he has numerous other pictures he could have chosen. Indeed, a weird, weird guy, but a good story.

  14. jeff

    It’s sad that we NEED to even worry about what he looked like. I guess being a musician and being around artist of all types my whole life I look at that, the art. If I judged art by what the creator looked like I would have shut myself off to most of the great art in history. And let’s stop and think about what most creepy, axe murderers, and petifiles look like, they blend in.

  15. Kaywin

    I can still recall the first time I read it. The greatest impact for me was when I finished the last page and closed the book. On the back cover was a scary-looking man, I was shocked and amazed all at once. I was so surprised that man wrote such a touching, loving, caring story. He opened my eyes and my heart to learning and teaching acceptance. I find it interesting that he personally chose that picture for the back cover. I really think that he knew the social teachings that the book and photo combined would provide. We must look inside to discover the truth of any person or of their works.

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