First published in 1981, Shel Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic was the first children’s book to reach the New York Times bestseller list, where it appeared a total of 182 weeks. Next month, HarperCollins will release A Light in the Attic:Special Edition, which contains 12 previously unpublished poems and 10 new drawings by the author, who died in 1999. To help promote this new edition, due with a 250,000-copy first printing, the publisher will add new features to the Shel Silverstein Web site and will launch additional online initiatives.
Antonia Markiet, senior executive editor of HarperCollins Children’s Books, joined the company in 1973 and worked with Silverstein for a number of years. The success of the publisher’s 30th-anniversary edition of Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends in 2004 was one incentive for releasing the new edition of A Light in the Attic. “We included never-before published poems in that book, and got an amazing response from fans, who were just over the moon to read new Shel poems,” Markiet says.
Photo: Larry Moyer.
Silverstein’s family also encouraged the release of the Special Edition. “Even though this is not an anniversary year for A Light in the Attic, Shel’s family wanted to publish this edition now, to thank fans and give them 12 new poems and some new artwork,” says Markiet. Fans have indeed been loyal—and enthusiastic—over the decades: almost 29 years after its original release, A Light in the Attic continues to be one of HarperCollins’s top-selling children’s books and has sold more than five million copies in North America.
Markiet explains that there is “quite a wealth” of finished but unpublished poems in the Silverstein archives. “He created many poems that he considered including in various books,” she says, “but then would set them aside for one reason or another.” Some that were not used in Where the Sidewalk Ends ended up in A Light in the Attic and some he initially considered for that book ended up in Falling Up. “That’s the way Shel worked.”
One of the previously unpublished poems now
included in the new edition of A Light in the Attic.
Colleen O’Connell, associate director of online marketing at HarperCollins Children’s Books, notes that the company’s online initiatives for the Special Edition include creating a free iPhone app, expanding the content and marketing currently on ShelSilverstein.com, distributing animated videos of Silverstein poems on YouTube and Facebook, and reaching out to “mommy bloggers and parenting communities.” She adds that “the goal is to promote Shel to a new generation of readers, and we have the opportunity to use platforms that were not available in the past. We plan to make the most popular features of ShelSilverstein.com, including the animated videos, available to external online destinations.”
Reflecting on Silverstein’s ongoing popularity, Markiet observes that “there is both a sweetness and an edge to his poems, and they speak to kids today in the same way they did three decades ago. And kids respond to his unique, irreverent artwork too. Shel was an extraordinary poet who was true to himself. He wrote to suit himself, as the best poets do. He didn’t set out to write what he thought kids would like. He wrote what he liked and that, in the end, is what works.”
A Light in the Attic: Special Edition by Shel Silverstein. HarperCollins, $18.99 ISBN 978-0-06-190585-8