• Fri. Apr 12th, 2024

The magic of Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

ByRegan Donovan

Feb 4, 2024

Childhood is often remembered with the utmost fondness, deepest sadnesses, or a combination of the two. Shel Silverstein, Playboy illustrator turned children’s author, managed to capture the complexities of juvenility in his works: blending humour, sadness, and intricate rhymes together. Where the Sidewalk Ends maintained a constant presence throughout my childhood—it was read, sang, and giggled, cementing its place as a family favourite. I flipped through these poems whenever my eyes wandered across the bookshelf, and as I’ve grown, I recognise new facets to Silverstein’s work. 

From Where the Sidewalk Ends, the poem Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me Too is my absolute favourite. It describes three characters’ ride in a flying shoe: “Ickle was captain, and Pickle was crew/And Tickle served coffee and mulligan stew”.

The silliness of these names left my brother and I rolling on the floor laughing, yet the poem concludes with the knowledge that Ickle, Pickle, and Tickle “never returned to the world they knew”. 

The dismal conclusion is a similar theme in the titular poem, Where the Sidewalk Ends, which describes the space “before the street begins” where “the grass grows soft and white”. This space is distinct from the “place where the smoke blows black”; it is defined by “chalk-white arrows” because “the children, they mark, and the children, they know / the place where the sidewalk ends”. 

Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me Too and Where the Sidewalk Ends speak to the uniqueness of childhood: it will eventually be lost, like the captain and crew of the flying shoe, or the people who live in the “place where the smoke blows black”. As a child, my mind created a new exciting world for Ickle, Pickle, and Tickle; only now as an adult do I recognise the sadness. Maybe that speaks to my lack of exposure as a child, but I’d like to think that my curiosity was less tainted with pessimism. So, while there is a sense of gloom in the other worlds created by Silverstein, they are special to me because they remind me of a more imaginative mind.

Some of my most formative experiences, positive and negative, occurred as a child, and this collection illustrates the intricacy of the bad and the good, whilst highlighting the lack of innocent curiosity in the adult or ‘real’ world. Why is the world where the sidewalk ends any less real than the world of 2024? I’d argue that those places are more real, holding the value that “everyone wins” when playing “hug o’ war” rather than tug o’ war: a message our world needs to be reminded of today. Where the Sidewalk Ends is a timeless classic on my bookshelf, which makes me nostalgic for the bittersweet process of growing up, and the beauty of a young mind.

Image” by smileoften is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0