I can remember my mother reading me The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein, when I was very very young. As I grew, I discovered other incredible books by the same author, like The Missing Piece and A Light in the Attic. Do you remember these magical tales? There was something so appealing, so weird and confusing yet wonderfully warm, about the worlds Shel created with his words. He transfixed me, along with countless other kids my age. Grownups, too, I’ve learned, since becoming one myself.
My favourite of all Shel’s books (and yes, we are very much on a first-name basis), was Where the Sidewalk Ends. I was given a copy by a dear family friend at Christmas of 1994, which I fortunately still have. It’s amazing anything at all from my childhood has survived the chaos of my teenage years, the many moves to and from university, the summers away, and the impulsive lending to which I am so prone. But, magically, here it still sits on my bookshelf, providing laughs and inspiration for Sylvia and I. Oh, and our names, too!
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As a kid, I was fascinated by Shel, and a little afraid of him, too. The author photo on the back jacket of Sidewalk shows him seated with his legs stretched out towards the camera, feet bare and a guitar in hand, an intense and inscrutable look on his face. Who was this swarthy bearded man who wouldn’t smile while having his picture taken? Where did all of those ideas and people and places and things come from? How could he tell a story that made me laugh, and cry, and learn things, with such simple words and pictures? I never understood how these things were possible but I loved the magician who made them so.
I cried when Shel Silverstein died. His work lives in that certain room in my heart, the one we probably all have, the one that’s full of memory and longing and warmth. And any kids I happen to make in the future will be sure to meet my old friend Shel.