Bedtime Read

WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS

There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
And the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends.

As a kid, this book was one of my all time favorites. I remember our librarian reading it a loud to us in third grade and thinking it was the most absurd, hilarious, entertaining book I had ever heard. Off the cuff characters so far removed from what we were use to in our usual picks from Judy Blume. Characters and images that would stick in my head forever: Cynthia Stout who refused to take the garbage out, the kid who sold his sister, the dirtiest man in the world. All odd, slightly perverse worlds where valid life lessons are buried in silly rhymes about misfits and mishaps. Dire mistakes and misjudgments inherit in all the overall plight of childhood.
I introduced the book to my boys this past Christmas. I couldn’t wait.
Naturally they were instant fans. Months later, it remains a top pick before bedtime. And I can’t deny that it doesn’t amuse me just a littler to see my middle son looking genuinely concerned hearing about Skinny Mcgee, the man who slips down the drain in the bathtub, or my youngest, growly seperatly disturbed by the idea of a worm up a nose that will bite any finger that gets close enough.
Shel Silverstein and his tales are not for everyone. In fact, he has always come with a fair share of controversy for being a celebrated child author. For instance, this article highlights some of the sentiments shared by critics:
 “Where the Sidewalk Ends was yanked from the shelves of West Allis-West Milwaukee,Wisconsin school libraries in 1986 over fears that it “promotes drug use, the occult, suicide, death, violence, disrespect for truth, disrespect for authority, and rebellion against parents.” Members of the Central Columbia School District in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania must have confused the year 1993 with 1393 when they objected to the poem Dreadful over the line “someone ate the baby” because they feared some of their more impressionable students might actually be encouraged to engage in cannibalism.”
I don’t know. It might be dark, and maybe it’s putting babies at risk of hungry brothers or instilling fear in the hearts of your average grade-school nosepickers, but we love it.
We’re up for the risk.

Anyone else care to share their own memories / thoughts on the book please do.

9 Responses

  • This reminds me of my 5th grade teacher, Mr. Hoffsommer, who would read Shel Silverstein poems to our class from time to time. He’d laugh and laugh, stopping to gain his composure, his face turning red, tears streaming down his cheeks. He’d take off his reading glasses and wipe his eyes, and we’d all roll on the floor in fits of giggles at both Silverstein’s writing and the sight of our buttoned-up teacher losing his shit over the absurd poems. What a fun memory!

  • It’s one of the books I remember most from my childhood. A treasured volume of poetry. Thanks for the reminder to pull it off the shelf and share the magic with my littles!

  • That criticism is ridiculous. Oh, what kind of world will my now 2 year old be growing up in? What in the heck will they be allowed to read and do and learn about by the time she’s in school? Sad. These books were my all time favorite, growing up. I still have them and can’t wait until my daughter is at the right age to be introduced to them. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • We are huge Shel Silverstein fans in our house too! My parents read it to my sister and I as children and I always laughed out loud. We have 3 of his poetry books and also The Giving Tree, which is such a touching and wonderful story. Both my boys love it and often ask to read the poems. They like that there’s little silly drawings to compliment the poems and they laugh so much. They totally get and appreciate its silly nature.

  • Shel is a staple for our family. In fact, I read the books so many times as a child that the verses are permanently embedded in some deep dark corner of my brain and I can STILL RECITE THEM ON COMMAND. I even dressed up as Backwards Bill in the 5th grade and had to recite the entire poem in front of the class while wearing backwards overalls.

  • We’re all a bit in love with this book in our family! Equal parts magically odd and just hilarious. My nine year likes to read it to us now at bedtime, I think it is as fun to read as it is to hear, whether you’re a kid OR a grown-up!

  • Thank you for sharing this little piece of history on “Where the Sidewalk Ends” being yanked out of schools. I was not aware of it but at the same time I became familiar with Shel Silverstein tales few years ago when I started working with children. He is not popular in Europe. My oldest daughter enjoys him very much.

  • I love Shel Silverstein and devored all his books of poems as a third grader. I remember feeling extremely accomplished after reading those nice, thick books in just a day’s time. Thank you for sharing this and reminding me that it might be getting close to the time to introduce them to my own kiddo.

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