Shel Silverstein, My Hero

Joseph Sottile

© Copyright 2004 by Joseph Sottile 

If I were asked to pick one poet as my hero, it would be a man who was more than a poet. He was an artist, cartoonist,
jazz singer, playwright, and composer. Shel Silverstein (1930-1999) will probably be remembered best as a children’s
poet. He wrote three collections of poetry that sold more than 14 million books: Where the Sidewalk Ends (1974), A
Light in the Attic (1981), and Falling Up (1996).

When his first poetry book came out, I was thirty, and teaching elementary school. My students loved his poetry. A
school day didn’t pass without me reading a few poems of his. If I forgot, they would beg me to read one before the
buses arrived. Sure, it made them laugh and sometimes it gave them something to think about on the ride home. But
what was the real magic all about?

The answer is in his first poetry book, Where the Sidewalk Ends, on page nine with “Invitation.” You don’t have
to read far to discover what’s so magical about his poetry. Here’s just the first three lines: “If you are a dreamer,
come in./  If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,/ A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer…” To Shel, all kids
mattered, regardless of race, color, creed, or age. As long as you were a kid at heart, your thoughts and feelings mattered. He was on your side. And best of all, you were welcomed in Shel’s Fascinating World of Poetry.

As a fourth grade teacher, I posted “Invitation” on my classroom door to set the theme of the school year: everyone
was welcomed, no matter what kind of student or person he or she was in the past. The past was the past—time to
build a better future. In an essay that I wrote for the local newspaper in 2004, I said, “Of course, the most popular works were those of Judy [Blume] and Shel [Silverstein]. Yes, I shared their words so frequently [with my class]
that I felt on a first name basis with them, as if they lived in our classroom. I could feel their presence and so could
my students. Those authors whose words danced through our classroom left behind golden footprints.”

In the late 70s, after a local poet taught some introductory poetry lessons to my class, I started writing children’s
poetry with my class. We started creating end-of-the-year anthologies and invited parents to our publication parties.
A good time was had by all.

By the late 90’s, I had written over 200 children’s poems and I shared many of them with my students during the year.
They begged me to put them in book form. The art teacher in my building, Lori DeLeonardis-Aman, was a superb
cartoonist; so I asked if she was willing to illustrate my poems. She agreed whole-heartedly. In 1998, I came out with
Bathroom Vacation and Other Poems. This was a popular book, but the title was somewhat confusing. Some
readers thought the book was all about bathroom humor meant to be read only in the bathroom! So the title was
changed and some new poems were added. In April of 2004, published a revised version of our
popular poetry book, Picture Poetry on Parade!

None of this could have happened unless I had fallen in love with Shel Silverstein's poetry. I’ve tried to write poems
about school and home with slants that other poets haven’t thought of. Nevertheless, anytime my poetry is mentioned in
the same sentence with Shel Silverstein, I am absolutely thrilled. He’s my hero and my mentor that I never personally

I’ve never met Jacquie McTaggart of Independence, Iowa, who is a retired teacher, professional speaker, and author of
From the Teacher's Desk, but this is what she has written about my book for kids 7 and up, “If you like Shel
Silverstein's poems, you'll love Joseph Sottile's Picture Poetry on Parade!   Sottile writes for the young, and the
young of heart. His words tickle the brain, nurture the soul, and gladen the heart.

"Because my work allows me to speak with teachers throughout the country, I have tucked Sottile's book (with
delightful illustrations by Lori DeLeonardis-Aman) into my well-worn traveling case. I plan to share this gem with my
fellow educators, and I'm certain they will want to share it with their students. Sottile and DeLeonardis-Aman have
presented society with a gift. Try it. You'll like it.”

Thank you, Jacquie McTaggart and Shel Silverstein

Joseph Sottile is a former teacher in upstate New York. He loves writing poetry for children and essays for
adults. The highlight of his day is to visit classrooms and read poetry. He says, "Poetry is music to the sole,
no matter what the foot size." He's a frequent classroom guest author and reader. Joe loves reading poetry to
his five grandchildren: Ricky J., Ryan, David, Megan, and Matt. Joe likes to bike 50 miles a week, play tennis,
and golf.

Contact Joseph

(Messages are forwarded by The Preservation Foundation.
So, when you write to an author, please type his/her name
in the subject line of the message.)

Book Case

Home Page

The Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher