Friday, April 18, 2008

Book Review: Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein

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...

And so begins the very first poem, "Invitation," from Where the Sidewalk Ends - Shel Silverstein's second collection of poems and drawings for children.  When it came out in 1974, it was hailed as an "instant classic," and received the Michigan Young Readers Award.  

This book has 176 pages filled with all lengths of poems, from short and to-the-point, to three-page narratives, and everything in between.  The poems are, by turns: funny, poignant, irreverent, imaginative, naughty, silly, sad, enchanting, quirky, witty, giddy, and zany.  Nearly every one is accompanied by a drawing that sometimes gives the reader a bit more clarification, and sometimes simply illustrates what's already there in the printed words.

It is a collection that has something for everyone, from the littlest of kids to the oldest of adults.  There are poems that bring back memories, poke fun at life, and give advice - admittedly somewhat twisted advice, like why you should not pick your nose, or whether or not to believe that the world is indeed round - but the message is there... subtle, but there.  

Some of the poems tell tales, revel in silliness, make light of small anxieties, and give voice to outrageous things a kid would never, ever do - like bathe an armadillo, for instance, or make a hippopotamus sandwich, or spit from the twenty-sixth floor - but always wondered what would happen if they did.

Still other rhymes play with words, or make you think: Are we really all so different? Do I really want to grow up so fast?  Maybe some risks are good to take.

There are poems that describe quintessential childhood pranks (see "Hat" on page 74), and reassure kids that they're not the only ones to go through something - like bad days, thumb-sucking, older siblings picking on them, younger siblings bugging them, or learning how hard it is to try and be good.

Of course, no Shel Silverstein poetry collection would be complete without the uproariously funny poems that make you laugh out loud as you read about things like pants that dance, double-tailed dogs, eating with your toes, and the infamous Dirty Dan.

For Teachers and Librarians:
This book will grab even the most reluctant reader's attention.  It's great for introducing poetry to the younger students, and for including in poetry units for the older ones.  The poems are a perfect way to provide some welcome comic relief after a stressful day in the classroom - for you and for them!  With so many topics covered, it is easy to find poems to enhance a teaching unit of any type.  Many of the poems included can often give voice to a child's unspoken anxieties or feelings - things they just haven't found a way to express or understand on their own.  And, of course, there are plenty of poems to give your students something to think about, as well.

For Parents, Grandparents and Caregivers:
This collection is the ideal choice for reading together when you only have short snippets of time, and is the ultimate luxury to read together when you have oodles of time.  Your kids can pick and choose and skip around the book as much or as little as they want - a safe and fun way to have no rules, even if it's only for a little while.  And, there is never a dull moment reading it.  It's the perfect opportunity to have one, big, prolonged gigglefest with the kiddos!

For the kids:
It's fun to read if you know how to read, and it's fun to listen to if you don't know how to read, or if you just need a little help when you read.  There are all kinds of poems all in one book - some are long and some are short and some are in-between.  You don't have to read the whole thing in order, either.  Plus, the pictures are sooooo funny!  You can read all about the king who only loved one single thing, what it's like to write poems from inside a lion, how to make a stew out of you, what it is that Captain Hook must remember never to do, and a whole lot more.  If you like to laugh, then this is the book for you!

For Everyone Else:
This book will give you a glimpse into the minds of kids.  If you have ever asked yourself, "What are they thinking?" then these poems just might shed a bit of light on that subject.  Many of the topics may remind you of your younger self, as well. Or, perhaps the poems will make you think.  They might even cause you to re-evaluate what's really important in life.  But most of all, this book will make you laugh.  Out loud.  And who doesn't need a little of that every now and again?

Wrapping up:
Where the Sidewalk Ends gives the reader so many ways to connect, on so many levels, with so many poems to choose from, that it's difficult not to enjoy it.

Title: Where the Sidewalk Ends
Author and Illustrator: Shel Silverstein
Pages: 176
Reading Level: ages 4-8
Publisher and Date: HarperCollins, 1974
Edition: 1st
Language: English
Published In: United States
Price: $18.99
ISBN-10: 0060256672
ISBN-13: 978-0060256678

*To add to the fun, there is also Where the Sidewalk Ends, an album (CD) of poems from the book "recited, sung and shouted" by the author, which won a Grammy Award in 1984 for Best Children's Album.  If you've never heard it, go find it, buy it, or borrow it, and listen to the whole thing.  It is a treat that you simply cannot miss.


  1. How many poems in "Where the Sidewalk Ends"?

  2. How many different of poems?

  3. Different types of poems???


So, what's on your mind?