It’s the birthday of children’s author and illustrator Shel Silverstein (books by this author), born Sheldon Allen Silverstein in Chicago (1930). 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.
It was never his intention. He began his career as a cartoonist while serving in the Korean War, publishing in the military’s daily paper; when he returned from duty, he got a job as a staff cartoonist for Playboy magazine, where he also contributed several poems. It wasn’t until a fellow illustrator who was finding success publishing for kids put Silverstein in touch with his editor that he was convinced to try writing for children. The blend of witty and wistful that would later become his trademark was initially off-putting to some, who told him his work was too mature for kids, but not enough so for adults. He proved them wrong by publishing four children’s books in two years, including his most enduring — and category-defying — The Giving Tree.