Where the Sidewalk Ends. By Shel Silverstein, Harper & Row, 1974. 166 pages.
Review Author: Theresa Trageser
From the imaginative creator of The Giving Tree, Shel Silverstein’s masterful writing in Where the Sidewalk Ends, includes poems that transcend generations. Fans of Dr. Seuss will enjoy the whimsy that Shel Silverstein has created. Both children and adults will enjoy reading (or hearing) the playful rhythm and rhymes he has created. The author’s purpose is to entertain for years to come; you can’t help but come back for more. More than any nursery rhyme, his collection of poems is almost guaranteed to make you laugh out loud. While the title of the collection evokes the idea of the end, inside the poems are full of hope and new beginnings.
Inside the collection, Silverstein has incorporated a healthy mixture of short poems and longer, multiple stanza poems. The drawings are by the author and show his sense of humor through their black and white, cartoonish style. Even the most minimalistic of the drawings are mostly literal representations of the poem it is illustrating (See “Poem on the Neck of a Running Giraffe pg. 107). Since some drawings (and poems) span multiple pages, not every poem has an individual drawing by the author. The font is consistent throughout the collection, but is rather small for a younger reader; however, the font size does not detract from the book’s ability to be used to read aloud to children. The drawings work with the text to make the poems accessible to children. Most of the drawings are whimsical, but at times they resemble different stereotypes, typically the facial expressions on the characters who are less than intelligent. Due to the cartoon like nature of the drawings, they are mostly “generic” representations of people in general.
Mixed throughout the silly and absurd characters and ideas are thought provoking and insightful messages. The poems within the collection share various meanings with readers from “anything can happen” to the importance of treating each other well. “The Little Blue Engine,” for example, (pg. 158) hides a twist on the theme from the classic children’s book, The Little Engine that Could. The uniqueness of the poetry reflects the uniqueness of life and values accepting variety. The poem “Colors” (pg. 24), in particular, looks at the subjectivity of colors and on a deeper level discusses that it’s not what someone looks like on the outside that matters, but what’s on the inside. Many of the poems suggest that how you see the world is what matters and to not let other people tell you what to think/feel. There are also poems about moderation, peace, and never giving up. Some of the poems’ characters do not show growth or development, but the poems themselves generally share a moral or cautionary tale against common and universal negative actions faced by children. These morals are brought to light through the absurdity of many of the topics incorporated within the collection.
Whether an adult is reading to a child or the child is reading the poem to themselves, the poems are entertaining and witty. The drawings are minimal but meaningful and are not simply included to be included. What is so wonderful about Where the Sidewalk Ends is that adults can share these poems with a child while still enjoying the poems themselves. There is also the added bonus of being able to purchase (separately) a CD of Shel Silverstein reading, singing or shouting a selective bunch of the poems himself which elevate the poems to an even higher level of entertainment. Contemporaries of Shel Silverstein include Jack Prelutsky and his similarly silly and witty collection of poems in The New Kid on the Block.