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A Tribute to Maurice Sendak

10 May 2012

I was really sad yesterday to hear of Maurice Sendak’s passing. It felt like a bit of my (very extended) childhood was over. I wrote a little piece on my work website, but I’ve re-posted it below:

There was one book from my childhood that was more important than all the others: Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are. For many, many nights in a row this book was my bedtime request. I listened avidly, waiting for the moment I could recite the final satisfying line ‘and it was still hot’, only to ask for it to be read one more time. I was particularly taken with the way Max’s ordinary, everyday bedroom transforms into a distant land of feral wilderness and adventure. At the time it felt like this was a very real possibility in my own house.

Where The Wild Things Are was a secret, special book, because in it Max gets angry and behaves badly. Also, he gets to wear a wolf suit (I still want to wear a wolf suit). Children are told constantly to be good and not lose their tempers;Where The Wild Things Are let me know that it was OK to roll my eyes and gnash my teeth occasionally.

I’m not the only adult to remember Maurice Sendak’s books from childhood. People regularly come into the kids’ section at Readings searching for his books. Sometimes they know the title and the author, sometimes they describe the colours used in the illustrations, sometimes they wear a faraway look and say things like, ‘There’s a book, a wonderful, creepy book where a real baby gets replaced with an ice baby’ (Outside Over There), or ‘A kid called Mickey gets baked in a cake?’ (In The Night Kitchen). When I hand the books over, these customers invariably clutch them to their chests as if someone might steal them before they reach the register.

Maurice Sendak’s dark, peculiar vision is as fresh as ever. The last time I readWhere The Wild Things Are at storytime, previously wriggly preschoolers settled down to listen carefully. A variety of expressions flitted across their faces: confusion, amusement, worry, delight. When we reached the wordless pages of the wild rumpus, I encouraged the kids to stand up and rumpus for themselves, but they were too shy. I hope they went home to do some stomping and dancing.

Sendak had a new picture book, Bumble-Ardy, published last year. His final book, a tribute to his brother Jack called My Brother’s Book, will be published next year. Recently he did an extremely entertaining interview with Stephen Colbert (see below), that proved him to be as irascible, uncompromising, passionate and opinionated as ever. Even though he was 83, I feel sad that Sendak passed away while he still had so much to contribute. I don’t think he could have ever written enough books to satisfy me though; I would have always wanted more.

 

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