A Sentimental Journey (No, This is Not About Journey)

I’m not often a fan of writing prompts and memes. It’s not that I’m too good for them (yeah, Mom101 you beyatch), it’s just that I just have too much crazy schizophrenic chatter inside my head at all times that needs to come out or else; let alone taking the time to write on someone else’s crazy schizophrenic chatter. My head would surely explode into tiny bits, and what with Nate doing all the cleaning these days, that just wouldn’t be fair to him.

But when the Lovely Mrs. Davis asked her loyal, pop culture-savvy readers:

What television, music, movie or book from your childhood are you excited about sharing with your own children?

I had to heed the call. Hey, it’s in honor of the anniversary of Sesame Street. Sesame Street! If you can’t honor the place where the air is sweet and everything’s A-okay, you have no soul.

The first thing that came to mind was the soundtrack to Free to Be You and Me, hands down. It was the first CD I bought when I was pregnant, and then, when it somehow disappeared, I went and bought it again. I wanted to make sure I had it on hand the first time I turned on the stereo for my first child. Before Mozart, before Brahams, even before They Might Be Giants.

Even before Journey.

The one downside is that I cannot play it for Thalia without my eyes welling up with tears, that nostalgic am I for the 70s-era post-feminist lessons the album teaches. Surely it helped shape my own values: that boys can play with dolls, girls can grow up to be firefighters, the princess doesn’t have to marry the prince, and that it’s alright to cry, especially when the Rams’ defensive lineman Rosie Grier tells you so.

Of course there is that bit of weirdness in hearing Michael Jackson sing about how when he grows up, he doesn’t want to change at all.


And while I love Free to Be with every fiber of my being, there’s perhaps one thing from my childhood I love even more.

Where the Sidewalk Ends is the single greatest children’s book of all time, anywhere, ever, even in parallel universes and time warps and planets that have yet to be invented and I don’t know where else–and I just dare you to disagree.

On second thought, no, I don’t dare you. I pity you, all you Ann of Green Gables lovers, you Little House on the Prarie fan club members. Not because those aren’t wonderful books. But because you just don’t get as much mileage at cocktail parties quoting sappy Laura Ingalls lines about Ma and Pa as you do quoting Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout who would not take the garbage out.

When I was in fifth grade, there was social currency in being able to memorize the entirety of Sick, an opus to hypochondria and preadolescent truancy.

I still remember the first few lines:

I cannot go to school today
Said Little Peggy-Ann McKay
I have the measles and the mumps
A gash a rash and purple bumps.
My mouth is wet my throat is dry
I’m going blind in my right eye…

Of course Thalia is a little too young to sit still for much more than Brown Bear Brown Bear these days. So when the nephew came to stay with us last month–the Game Boy-addicted nephew–I forced a few readings from Sidewalk on him.

“But I haaaaaate poetry,” he whined. “Poems are lame.”

May I now present to you: Brodie, a kid who likes poetry.

Each morning he woke up eager to tell us about his new favorite part: The king who ate all the peanut butter sandwiches. The stupid kid who trades a dollar for four quarters because four is more than one. The dirtiest man in the world. Captain Hook who must remember not to pick his nose.

What’s not to like, I ask you with a thick Yiddish accent? Nose picking–that’s good stuff.


If you want to play along, everyone’s welcome! Just take a trip over to the online abode of Amy Davis, pop culture maven and Cool Mom Picks music expert, and get this nostalgia party started.


Edited to add:
There seems to be some discussion about whether or not Michael Jackson was in Free to Be. From what I can tell, he doesn’t perform on the CD, Diana Ross assumes that role–but he is in the original cast on the DVD according to IMDB. So apparently the Diana-Michael morphing started way earlier than anyone was even aware.


56 thoughts on “A Sentimental Journey (No, This is Not About Journey)”

  1. I LOVE Shel Silverstein. I gave <>Where the Sidewalk Ends<> and <>A Light in the Attic<> to my niece as birthday presents, and her mom had never heard of them before! I was shocked!

  2. I just wrote my fave SS poem on someone else’s blog today. I used to have to read them for drama class – classics, I tell you.It’s amazing reading the same stories and poems that I read as a kid to my daughter – even better seeing the excitement and glow in her eyes when I do. It’s magical.

  3. Where The Sidewalk Ends is possibly the best book ever!!!! I used to read that cover to cover as a child and I cant wait to start reading it to Grace. I just might have to join this meme bandwagon tomorrow……need to figure out which book it is that is my favorite…there are so many.

  4. hey thanks! I don’t have to write my own, you just did it for me. Sidewalk is so special to us because a s the kiddo has gotten older, she has grown to appreciate the poems on a different level. I hope she never outgrows it.

  5. When I first got my iPod, I immediately downloaded all the Shel Silverstein I could find. For me. And I listen to it religiously.

  6. Is there some kind of emoticon that depicts jaw dropping to the floor?<>ANN of Green Gables<>???I would ask whether that was by mistake or on purpose, except that I’m not sure which is worse.(heading off to round up the Anne-fans posse so we can kick some Silverstein butt…)

  7. shel silverstein is awesome! i had the giving tree as a child and loved it! and all the other books he wrote!

  8. How could you possibly even begin to beat a collection featuring Carol Channing, Rosey Grier, Dick Cavett, Harry Belafonte, Jack Cassidy, Shirley Jones and the long list goes on. It was the original lollapalooza. The MarloThomaspolooza!

  9. Tacy refuses to watch “Free to Be” these days. Know why? Because it reminds her of New York. Talk about sentimental.But like I said to Mayberry, I’ve got her hooked on Shel Silverstein now. And you’re right – those poems are classic, funny and sweet, and imminently quotable.

  10. What’s not to like indeed! My daughter and I are avid Shel fans! I can’t add anything more now as the book is sitting home on my bookshelf or I would have lifted it off and quoted.I may be a little older and date myself here, but I yearn to see the Mr. Bubbles commercial just once. I may have to head to the Museum of Television and Broadcasting for that.

  11. I asked for “Free to Be You and Me” on SweetPea’s 1st birthday. I listen to it in the car all the time and blubber away, not caring if anyone sees me – cuz “It’s Allright to Cry” people! Stop staring at me!I remember the video from my own childhood and that will be next DVD purchase.Pretty sure it’s Diana Ross singing “When We Grow Up” and not Michael Jackson (thank you Jesus!), but I realize they had almost morphed into one another for a time there so it is easy to mistake one for the other.

  12. Three cheers for Shel! Like Kristen, I wrote my favorite poem in Mayberry Mom’s comments too, the ones about worms needing to sleep late.Sometimes when I’m trying to get stuff out of a stack in the fridge, I think about the girl who wanted the pancake in the middle.

  13. Wanderglow: I just double checked that one – it’s indeed Michael Jackson singing with the great Roberta Flack. I think Diana Ross was already like a hundred when FTB came out. But you’re right – it’s very easy to confuse them!

  14. I’d be interested to hear your perspective on The Giving Tree by Silverstein. I’m not quite sure where I stand on that one yet.

  15. OMG… I LOVE FREE TO BE YOU AND ME!!!! Last year, I found the book and cd at a local book store. I have my daughter’s listen to the music ALL THE TIME….. I even remember being in a school play singing all the songs from this book. Oh thank you Marla Thomas for creating such a wonderful book, songs and making us remember that girls have many choices when they grow up.

  16. My 4-year old BOY loves to listen to the story of Atalanta and Young John and my favorite song to sing to the kids is “Glad to Have a Friend Like You.”So, to quote Anne, I now feel that we must be “kindred spirits.” I’m with you bubandpie! Anne of Green Gables rocks!Oh, and here’s one more suggestion for Thalia. The All-of-A-Kind-Family series. It’s even set in NYC, so she’ll feel a connection. My highest reccomendation for Thalia.

  17. I can still recite “Sick”… and when Thalia is in the 2nd grade and has to memorize a poem for “Poetry Day” you will be so excited to say, “Oh, I have a good one…” and then you dust off the jacket and your kid looks like you are nuts because it looks soooooo loooong and then you read it and she laughs and it is all good and yet another child will stand in front of the class reciting, “I cannot go to school today…”Or, at least that’s how it went in my house. 😉

  18. I used to have the <>Where The Sidewalk Ends<> record when I was a child, and I’d listen to it over and over! I even remember out grade 1 choir ‘singing’ I’m Being Swallowed By A Boa Constrictor! lol

  19. Oh, yes! I love Shel Silverstein! I cry every time I read The Giving Tree. And the poetry is fabulous! Perfect for kids and adults to share. Thank you for the trip down memory lane!

  20. Liz,I think I may have to stop coming here to visit you…you stole by dam book idea. Shit. Oh well, mine is going up tomorrow and I will leave it in there.Before Journey….too funny.

  21. My children all love Shel Silverstein also. It makes my heart swell when they recite poems like this about their little sister and follow it up with a hearty belch I imagine shel silverstein would approve of:Someone ate the baby.It’s absolutely clearSomeone ate the baby‘Cause the baby isn’t here.We’ll give away her toys and clothes.We’ll never have to wipe her nose.Dad says, “That’s the way it goes.”Someone ate the baby.And I totally forgot about the Free to Be… album. I must go buy it now. For me that album is up there with the Rumours album by Fleetwood Mac. God, how I wanted to be Stevie Nicks.

  22. Can you believe I have NEVER HEARD “Free to be you and me”? Nope, never heard a single note of it. Um, do you think I should buy it? LOLMy oldest son (who will be 10 in Oct.) LOVES Shel Silverstein. And the Random House Book of Children’s Poetry. His favorite is a poem about an elephant and a telephone.

  23. Sidewalk is genius, I’m totally with you. Anything Silverstein, really, but Sidewalk is his great work, his Ninth Symphony, and so it stands in a class of his own.Lucky Brody that you stepped in to make sure that poetry void got filled…

  24. What a brilliant intro to poetry!I read Where the Sidewalk Ends to my younger sister until we both knew poems by heart (Captain Hook and Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout were favorites). Good times. Good memories.Can’t wait until the Impling is old enough…

  25. hey, what are you doing in my childhood? free to be you and me? i drive the library crazy looking for copies of the dvd (i think it’s an urban myth that one actually exists), and sing it all the time. bumblebee loves it (she told me so).and btw – the coolest kids at the party can quote laura and cynthia.

  26. The Lovely Mrs. Davis has a first name! I forgot she was in the cool mom picks gang. Neat.Allright, confession: I’m an Anne of Green Gables and Little House girl. I wanted escape! “What can I say?” she asks with a thick Yiddish accent.But Where the Sidewalk Ends sounds pretty cool and I’m sure it’s not too late for me to bone up on my cocktail party chit chat. Even though BlogHer 07 may be the next cocktail party I go to.

  27. Ain’t no Michael Jackson on FTBYAM, girl! At least not my 1972 copy. On my version (I still have the album and book my mom bought me) it’s Diana Ross singing “We dont have to change at all.” I was obsessed with the “Ladies First” story.

  28. Free to be You and Me is the bomb, baby! I also ran out and got it when I got pregnant and I’ve given it to nearly every person whose ever had a baby – especially my friends in NC who didn’t seen to know about it.I can’t wait for Jaden and Rowan to be old enough to appreciate it. Right now they cry everytime I put it on. They want Mary Had A Little Lamb instead.Where’s their taste?

  29. My daughter loves Sick from Shel Silverstein. She just laughs and laughs. I’ll hear her saying to herself, “What, today is Saturday, I’m going out to play.”When I was little, I dressed up and “performed” that poem about the trading money for more coins at a nursing home. I killed (not literally!)

  30. My nearly 16 year old middle daughter is a HUGE Shel Silverstein fan and absolutely loved <>Where the Sidewalk Ends<>. While at a bookstore last weekend, she was showing it to my six year old and trying to get her started on them. It was very cute.

  31. I am the age of the parents who gave this to their kids and I knew the producers quite well. I know they hoped it would have an impact but wonder if they ever imagined the staying power it has – even now when little boys have dolls and little girls can’t imagine not being whatever they want when they grow up.It’s been at least 30 years but like Liz I STILL get weepy when I hear “Glad to Have a Friend Like You” or “Free to Be.” I was playing it for a friend’s 2 year old and had to go into the kitchen and hide for a few minutes…It was a real gift and it’s just a nice thing to see that it still matters.

  32. For my 6th grade speech class I did Ladies First from Free to Be You and Me. What a great lesson that story tells. You better open your own doors or a tiger might eat you! And my favorite quote from FTBYAM? “Dudley Pippin?”…”I didn’t do it.”Some Shel Silverstein trivia for ya.He wrote the Loretta Lynn song-One’s on the way. “Here in Topeka the flies are a buzzin’The dog is a barkin’ and the floor needs a scrubbin’One needs a spankin’ and one needs a huggin’ Lord, one’s on the way”Sorry for all that. Shel Silverstein and Marlo Thomas get me all a flutter

  33. I just came back from Prince Edward Island, where the Anne of Green Gables cult has taken root and flourished. They’ve recreated Avonlea, and little red-haired girls run up to you in the street and say things like, “Have you seen my best friend Diana? I’m afraid I mistook the current wine for raspberry cordial and now she is ever-so-sick!”I would love a place like this for Shel Silverstein fans. I heart Shel, too, and my favorite (sentimental softie that I am) is “The Giving Tree.” Crying now, just a bit.

  34. Run out and get the cd of where the sidewalk ends. due to repetitive, repetitive rehearings, each of my four could recite “the crocodile went to the dentist” at four years old. jack prelutski is great, too. check out scraminals.

  35. I honestly don’t remember much of “Free to Be”, although when I heard a couple tracks from it as an adult, I did recognize them. I just can’t remember when/where in my childhood I encountered this. Probably at some cool friend’s house.Love Shel Silverstein!

  36. “Well, I don’t care if I’m pretty at all, and I don’t care if you never get tall. I like what I look like, and you’re nice small. We don’t have to change at all.”I’ve been singing (and getting a little teary, yes) all day. I just downloaded it to my iPod. Precious.

  37. Am I the only person who was born in the early 70’s who didn’t have Free to be You and Me? I feel as if a whole portion of my childhood was a lie.

  38. I wore that record OUT. And then I saw it at a shop as an adult and HAD TO HAVE IT.I love “William Wants a Doll”, the story of Atalanta, and when Mel Brooks does the baby schtick. Gosh. Good times. Thanks for loving this thing that I loved so much and reaffirming the love I have for you.What a 70s lovefest that just was…

  39. My daughter did theater camp this year and they all had to memorize Shel Silverstein poems for their performance. My very favorite book of his was The Giving Tree. It’s mandatory reading here.

  40. i am — again — late to the party, but OH MAH GAHHHH…how i LOVED shel silverstein and everything he ever gave us. my fifth grade class had a contest about who could recite the most poems, but they had to stop it because no one was anywhere near as interested as i was. i LOVED sick. and my mom encouraged me to bring The Crocodile and the Dentist to my dentist. and my community theater did Free To Be… when i was 11.i clearly need a child.

  41. _Where the Sidewalk Ends_ is it! My daughter responded to the rhythms of the poems early on, like at 6 mos — back when reading to her was kind of boring, so I was happy to revisit the material. But now she’s over it, probably until she can understand the words.But how can The Giving Tree be so ineluctably bad?

  42. My niece has been in some poetry recitals, and I’ve heard lots and lots of Shel Silverstein poems at those recitals over the years. When I learned I was pregnant, the very book you have pictured was one of my first purchases!! What’s not to love?

  43. Wow, that completely took me back. I loved Shel Silverstein. Where The Sidewalk Ends, according to my ultra Christian parents, could have potentially encouraged bad behavior so I was never allowed to own it. So, of course, when <>I<> am pregnant, it will be the first book I buy;-).

  44. I had completely forgotten about memorizing the words to “Sick” until your post (and how cool it made me when I did)!! Thanks for jogging my memory, wonderful!Carrie

  45. I had completely forgotten about memorizing the words to “Sick” until your post (and how cool it made me when I did)!! Thanks for jogging my memory, wonderful!Carrie

  46. Here’s another one you loved as a little girl: How To Eat Like A Child(And Other Lessons in Not Being A Grown Up) by Delia Ephron.Spaghetti: Wind too many strands on the fork and make sure at least two strands dangle down. Open your mouth wide and stuff in spaghetti; suck noisily to inhale the dangling strands. Clean plate, ask for seconds, and eat only half. When carrying your plate to the kitchen, hold it tilted so that the remaining spoaghetti slides off and onto the floor.

  47. You and I are from the exact same era. Those are two of my favorite memories, and I bought the Free to Be You and Me CD for Julian at Xmas/Chanukah when he was 2 months old.

  48. Had to had to had to respond to this (been browsing old posts since I talked to you today) — Charlie performed in a production of “Sidewalk” poems atcamp and did “Snowman.” The three girls acting out “I’m being eaten by a boa constrictor” was pretty priceless. We love to read the poems together, and of course “Sick” was the first one I read to him.And I tear up at “Free to Be” too.

  49. LOVE Free to be you and me. Maya has it, too. She ignored it for awhile, but now listens to it on her CD player in her room. 🙂She got Where the Sidewalk Ends for her 9th birthday…they had it at school, but she didn’t have it at home yet. She stopped in the middle of opening her pile of gifts, to read her favorite poems to the family. I think she stopped opening gifts for about 20 minutes. We had to remind her. And hello, she was 9. Not 3, when it’s very easy to be distracted. Now THAT’S a book. 😉Great choices. Maybe I’ll do this, though due to being on vacation, I’m behind…

  50. Free to be You and Me is the first CD I bought when I found out I was pregnant, too. That and Harry Nilsson’s The Point. Dear, sweet Oblio!

  51. So I am late to the party, as usual and just found my way here to your blog. I LOVED Free to Be You and Me, and had the original. I am also a diehard Journey fan, saw them in concert with The Red Rocker and rocked out with my big huge eighties hair.

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