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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Where the Wild Things Are, written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak. Harper, 2012. $9.99 ages 5 and up

“And Max, the king of all
wild things, was lonely and
wanted to be where someone
loved him best of all.” 

I owe a lot of memories to Maurice Sendak and his wonderful books.

Where the Wild Things Are was a favorite readaloud night after night at home, and day after day at school. We couldn't get enough of Max and his shenanigans. What child did not, or does not, live vicariously through such a brilliant character?

Then, while teaching in my second school and spending all of my extra time working in the library there (there was no school librarian), I ordered In the Night Kitchen and caused a mighty stir. Our principal saw the baby's naked wee body (and that it was a boy!) and put a halt to it being included in our collection. New to that job, much younger than I am now and not yet willing to fight the book banning, I paid for it, put the money with the overdue book fines and it remains part of our home collection to this day...some thirty years later!

Maurice Sendak was his own beloved character within the world of children's literature. He had strong opinions, worked his magic visually in more than fifty books for children and wrote many of his own. When he accepted the Caldecott Medal for Wild Things in 1964, he spoke about children:

"It is my involvement with this inescapable fact of childhood–the awful vulnerability of children and their struggle to make themselves King of all Wild Things–that gives my work whatever power and passion it may have."

Power? Yes! Do we not still dream at times of being 'wild things' and leaving all constraints behind so that we, too, may be part of a 'wild rumpus'? I think that we might. Fantastic as it might seen, it gives wings to our wishes and allows us to dream.

Then, as Max did, we can return to the life we live and love:

“But the wild things cried, “Oh please don’t go - we’ll eat you up - we love you so!”
And Max said, “No!”

The wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws but Max stepped into his private boat and waved goodbye.” 

Home to a warm supper and familiarity, once more.

The world of children's literature lost an honorable man, a great friend and an honest voice for children when Maurice Sendak died last week at age 84. It helps to know that he was ready:

“I have nothing now but praise for my life. I'm not unhappy. I cry a lot because I miss people. They die and I can't stop them. They leave me and I love them more...What I dread is the isolation. ... There are so many beautiful things in the world which I will have to leave when I die, but I'm ready, I'm ready, I'm ready.” 

Rest in peace, Mr. Sendak.

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