Friday, November 12, 2010

Where the Sidewalk Gets Scary

I love Shel Silverstein.  I have loved his poems and books for as long as I can remember.  Even in college, I would be known to have a couple of, ahem, "sodas" too many and recite Shel.  Yeah, I didn't date much.

When my kids came along, I had two more Shel-lovers.  Katie, especially.  When I catch her reading late at night, she often is giggling over one of his poems.  As she gets older, she understands his humor and it's fun to watch her "get" the point of a poem.  She has three books of his, and she knows them all very well.  Last night, she wanted me to read to her for a change.  We play-fought over which poems we would read first and which ones were the best.  We started at the front of Where the Sidewalk Ends and read our way through to the middle.

As the pages turned and we got closer to the end of the book, Katie was getting restless and nervous.  She began flinching as I would turn each page.  Finally, as we neared page 154, she started, jumped out of bed, and went to Davis's room on an errand.  When she sheepishly returned to her room she asked, "can we just skip to 'Merry'?"  Hmmm. "Merry" is on page 164, the end of the book.  Slowly, realization washed over me and the hairs on my arms and on the back of my neck began to stand up.  No, I thought, that would be just too freaky.  But I had to know, despite the fact that my questions would terrify her even more.

"Katie, which picture is it that scares you?"  I asked.  Tears came to her eyes, but she seemed relieved that I knew what was going on, even if she hadn't told me.

"I don't want to talk about it," she said, shaking her head.

"Katie, please, I really have to know.  What picture?"

"Mom, no.  I really can't."  Her terror seemed to be building as she tried to block out the picture that was coming into her head. 

I couldn't let her think I was simply being cruel, so I told her the story.  I have had one copy or another of Where the Sidewalk Ends for almost all of my life.  There is one poem, one picture rather, that scares the fool out of me.  Even as an adult.  When Katie was tiny and even in recent memory, I have always known where that picture is and I carefully flip past it as quickly and quietly as I can.  We never read each and every poem, so it's never a big deal that we skip a few.  Katie also doesn't depend on my preferences;  she knows by heart some of the poems that I don't, since she reads her books independently of me.

The poem, and the chilling illustration, is "Melinda Mae" and it's the story of a little girl who decides to eat a whale and spends her entire life doing exactly that.  The poem itself is cute.  It takes up four pages and as you turn the page from young Melinda, you are met with old Melinda on the second two pages.  Old Melinda is the most terrifying drawing I have ever seen, to this day.  I have goose-bumps and the jitters just typing this sentence.  For thirty years now, I have been skipping that page.

I have never talked about this to anyone, ever.  While I am known for having a little bit of an over-active imagination, I have never wanted to confess that an illustration in a book of children's poems could scare me wide-awake at night.

Katie is deathly afraid of the same drawing.


  1. OK, I'm going to go look at that illustration right now. . . checked it out, and I am not so much disturbed by the old lady, but the pile of bones she has left of the whale. Funny that you and Katie both found the same illustration scary. Shel has a lot of illustrations that are a bit a the scary side, but I love his poetry.

  2. Like daughter. What's more natural.