Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein: A review

Where the Sidewalk Ends: The Poems and Drawings of Shel SilversteinWhere the Sidewalk Ends: The Poems and Drawings of Shel Silverstein by Shel Silverstein
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When my kids were little, among our favorite books to read together was Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. Indeed, one of the best excuses for having kids was reading Silverstein's poetry!

Where the Sidewalk Ends was his first collection of poems. He had had a successful career as a songwriter, playwright, and cartoonist before someone suggested to him that he should write poetry for children. He subsequently became most well-known for such work. He wrote The Giving Tree, a favorite of ours, and A Light in the Attic, another collection of poems which my kids and I enjoyed, but we returned often to the nonsense poetry of Where the Sidewalk Ends.

I think my kids' favorite poem was Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out. The obstinate little girl ultimately "met an awful fate" because of her refusal to do her assigned chore. We also enjoyed reading about the girl who ate a whale, unicorns, crocodiles who went to the dentist, and a boy who turned into a television set. All these poems were wonderful vehicles for the imagination, and isn't that really what you want from poetry?

One of the things that made Silverstein's poems so effective for children was not just the nonsense that made them giggle and set their imaginations free but the quirky drawings that illustrated them. Silverstein had been a cartoonist before he became a poet and he always illustrated his poems with his uniquely imagined drawings.

While Silverstein's poems were often outrageously funny, they also frequently contained profound truths that kids imbibed along with the humor. Here's an example of that, a short poem that I very much liked that appeared early in the book. It is called Magic.

Sandra's seen a leprechaun.
Eddie touched a troll.
Laurie danced with witches once.
Charlie found some goblins' gold.
Donald heard a mermaid sing.
Susy spied an elf.
But all the magic I have known
I've had to make myself.

These poems helped kids - and their parents - learn to make magic for themselves and that is a gift that keeps on giving for a lifetime.

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