Where the Sidewalk Ends

Sidewalk Ends

On December 27, I was faced with one of the greatest dilemmas for a bibliophile: picking a favorite book. The choice was to be made for my local book group, and had the further condition of being from the children’s category.

My only consolation for narrowing my 17 choices down to just one was that I promised myself to write about each -here, on this blog. I have therefore forgotten entirely about it since writing posts for King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub and The Adventures of TinTin.

Today I drove past an unusual sign. I’d have taken a picture, but that’s rather irresponsible driving while ferrying small children.

That’s why I did the safe thing and dug up this picture I took nearly three years ago.


At the sight, I couldn’t help but be drawn back to my childhood and to one of the best books of poetry ever: Where The Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein.

“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.”


My mother read to us as children. She did so frequently enough that I remember, though not so much that I could say it was every night or even every month. Besides Ramona Quimby, Age 8All Creatures Great and Small, The Water Babies, and Twig, she read quite a bit of poetry. Her favorites were The Cremation of Sam McGeeBessie’s Boil, many of Ogden Nash’s shorter quips, A Child’s Garden of Verses, and many Shel Silverstein poems.

My favorite thing about the greatest children’s book authors is their ability to convey deep feelings and ideas in succinct, clever passages -passages even a child can understand. I respect their mastery of language. It is a great talent to funnel grand ideas down to fit neatly in the small spaces of a young mind.

I have acquired all of Shel Silverstein’s books of poetry over time, but Where the Sidewalk Ends is my nostalgic favorite for two reasons:

1. My family of origin owned only this book of his and we read it for years and years. It’s like the first dog we owned, and will always hold a special place in my heart for it.

2. Along with the text, we had an audiocassette of Shel Silverstein himself reading/singing/chanting his prose. When I read them to my children today, I hear his laughing voice and his background guitar strumming.

My children can’t hear him, poor things. Thank heavens for YouTube, in this case:

Peanut-Butter Sandwich
Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out
My Beard (my boys’ favorite)
The Generals
Boa Constrictor
Crocodile’s Toothache
Jimmy Jet and His TV Set
Captain Hook
Hug O’War

Not all of them were on the recording we had growing up, and fewer than those are currently on YouTube.

The man clearly had a wonderfully twisted sense of humor, and an amusing way of mixing and churning out rhymes. If you have not heard of Shel Silverstein, or only know of a few of his books, check out some of his others.

Runny Babbit is good. Or, The Missing Piece. Many people also like The Giving Tree. I go for his poetry the most: A Light in the AtticFalling Up, and Every Thing On It.

He was an adult, of course, so don’t let any audio program just run wild with everything he’s ever written and performed. That’s your parental advisory right there. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Wikipedia just told me he wrote a few things for Playboy. 😉

9 thoughts on “Where the Sidewalk Ends

  1. D. Avery @shiftnshake March 10, 2018 / 2:42 am

    I didn’t know about writing for Playboy. I did know that he wrote songs, some recorded by Marianne Faithful, among others.
    His books were well worn in all my classrooms, a favorite of 8-12 year olds.
    Bessie’s Boil and Sam McGee! These were one’s I was also familiar with at a young age.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Chelsea Owens March 10, 2018 / 7:10 am

      Before the ever-helpful internet, a college professor of mine sang one of Silverstein’s more-adult songs (with a personal edit) during a segment on the school’s radio station. Before that, I had no idea about the “other half” of Silverstein’s works. 😀
      I’m glad you love Sam McGee and Bessie, too!

      Liked by 1 person

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake March 10, 2018 / 7:21 am

        Spent some of childhood in Robert Service country. As kids we had our own version of Dan McGrew. The lights went out a shot was heard a man got hit by a flying turd. Hey, poetry has to start somewhere.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Lesleykluchin March 10, 2018 / 9:55 am

    Chelsea, thank you so much for this post. “Where the Sidewalk Ends” has been one of my favorite classroom books and one of the most loved by my students during my 36 year teaching career. It was first published in 1974, just a year after my oldest son was born. As a collector of Children’s Literature, this book was obviously not around when I was I in college and begun my interest in “Kiddie Lit.” as we affectionately called the two classes required to get a degree in Elementary Education. I graduated in 1971, but in 1974, I was a divorced young mother trying to break into the teaching community and I happened upon that book one day while searching for something unique to read to my students. It became my “go to” that I always brought with me as a young substitute teacher. When I was able to get a permanent full time job, I read various poems at the end of the day to my students and loved watching their faces as they listened to his words. By the time I retired, I was adept at poetry lessons and now write a poetry curriculum for the school board and a local non profit foundation. And Shel Silverstein is still one of my very favorite children’s authors. Of all his books, “Where the Sidewalk Ends” is my favorite too. Perhaps because it was his first. Or perhaps because it is the one both my sons, who are almost 16 years apart, (One in his mid 40’s, and one in his late 20’s) enjoyed the most when they were little. And now, I read his poems to my grandchildren.
    I left my tattered, well loved copy in my classroom, so that the teacher who took my place when I retired could continue sharing his wonderful body of work. I certainly hope she does.

    Thank you for giving tribute to the amazing mind and work of an incredible writer. And I am absolutely delighted that you were touched and motivated by him. You would have been that dreamy little girl sitting in my poetry circle on the floor with me, imagining all sorts of wonderful images as I read “Where the Sidewalk Ends.” And luckily is never seems to end…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Chelsea Owens March 10, 2018 / 10:14 am

      Thank you for this touching, lovely story. You may write all my “book reviews” for me. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Lesleykluchin March 10, 2018 / 11:01 am

        My pleasure. I was deeply touched by your love for such a very special book. What captured my heart was your ability to share how much it meant to you. That kind of appreciation is what gives every teacher sweet dreams at night. 😍

        Liked by 1 person

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