The brevity of most of the poems in Where the Sidewalk Ends provides a stimulus to reading. They are less demanding than more lengthy forms of literature, and yet enough information is provided within the body of each poem to provide a complete and comprehensive view of the subject. This collection serves well as an introduction for those young readers who have not yet decided if they truly enjoy poetry or who have not previously been exposed to poetry. It entertains, informs, inspires, and tells of things that may never be as well as of things that may one day be.
The subject matter in the collection appeals to readers of all ages. It is easy to understand, and the reader need not constantly look for the hidden message of a poem. The meanings are apparent upon the initial reading and are flexible enough to communicate with a vast array of readers with differing viewpoints. In fact, some poems focus on the aspect of varying perspectives, such as “Point of View,” and “Forgotten Language.”
On the serious side, Silverstein has included poems such as “Hug o’War,” where everyone wins when hugs take place; “Listen to the Mustn’ts,” where anything can happen as one grows older; “No Difference,” which presents similarities among all people; and “Love,” which implies the need for several people to cooperate in order for love to thrive. All these poems examine realistic situations and present them with an understanding and empathy that immediately communicates itself with the reader.
Probably the most notable aspect of Where the Sidewalk Ends is the inclusion of the nonsense poem, the humorous poem, or a combination of the two. In nonsense poems, meaning takes a second place to...
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Where the Sidewalk Ends remains as well received and enjoyable to children, adults, and teachers as it was when it first appeared on bookshelves in 1974. Readers, both young and old, savor hearing these poems read aloud, as well as perhaps acting out the characters found in some of the longer poems. Some poems, such as “The Unicorn,” have been made into popular songs. Others, such as “Smart” and “One Inch Tall,” have been incorporated into the curriculum in an attempt to show that mathematics problems can be entertaining. Additionally, “Paul Bunyan” has been used in English literature classes as a point of comparison with the more traditional version of this tall tale.
In addition to several picture books for intermediate readers, Shel Silverstein published the humorous books of poetry A Light in the Attic (1985) and Falling Up (1996). Both of these collections include pen-and-ink drawings by Silverstein and provide the reader with comic and profound poems that encourage divergent and creative thinking.