To borrow a phrase from a classic Beatle’s song that feels especially applicable, “I read the news today, oh boy…”
The news in this case is the passing of writer Maurice Sendak, the man who penned whimsical, wonderful children’s books, the most well known of which—“Where The Wild Things Are”—was required nightly reading in our home when my son was a little boy.
For the uninitiated, “Where The Wild Things Are” tells the story of young Max, who is sent to his room without dinner for speaking rudely to his mother. In a flourish of anger, Max dons his “wolf suit,” and decides to sail away, never to return. On his voyage, he lands at a strange place inhabited by “wild things”—giant, grotesquely–shaped creatures, which Sendak said he created based on the dubious characteristics of some of his loud, obnoxious relatives with big noses and bad teeth.
Max eventually returns home, leaving the bereft wild things who have crowned him their new king and are heartbroken to see him go. Once home, Max and his mother make peace, and she gives him his dinner, which is still warm.
Sendak’s sensibilities about children made him realize that kids wouldn’t be frightened by the book—or the wild things—though many adults were concerned that they would be. The book was initially banned by many librarians.
I loved Sendak’s work, but mostly I loved reading about him and seeing him in the rare televised interviews he gave. He was a cantankerous and opinionated man with a soft spot for children (though he never had any of his own), and seemed to inherently know their wishes and wiles better than most parents.
Some of my family’s other favorites by Sendak include “The Nutshell Library,” a collection of four small books: “Alligators All Around,” “Chicken Soup With Rice,” “One Was Johnny,” and “Pierre.” We also enjoyed “In the Night Kitchen,” though it was more fanciful, complex, and mystical than his others. It was also a banned book for a time.
Sendak’s illustrations, from earlier in his career, included another favorite family, the “Little Bear” series, written by Else Holmelund Minarik.
My personal favorite, however, was “Really Rosie,” a musical production based on Sendak’s "Nutshell"collection with music written and performed by Carole King. We used to watch a videotape of “Really Rosie” over and over, and I admit that on occasion, it was me urging the kids to watch it, not the other way around. How could I not, with lyrics like these, from Sendak’s story “Pierre,” about a small, nasty, indifferent little boy who didn’t care about anything, including being swallowed by a lion—or so he thought:
“They rushed the lion into town
The doctor shook him up and down
And when the lion gave a roar
Pierre fell out upon the floor
He rubbed his eyes and scratched his head
And laughed because he wasn't dead
His mother cried and held him tight
His father asked-Are you all right?
Pierre said—I am feeling fine
Please take me home, it's half past nine
The lion said—If you would care
To climb on me, I'll take you there
Then everyone looked at Pierre
Who shouted—Yes, indeed, I care!
The lion took them home to rest
And stayed on as a weekend guest
The moral of Pierre is: CARE!”
If you haven’t yet experienced Sendak’s illustrations and books, now’s the time to do so. Someday, your kids will thank you. Looking for other great books to read? This summer reading list will get you and your kids started.
Editor's note: The image used here is a tagged illustration from "Where The Wild Things Are,” which shows Max in his wolf suit creating a "wild rumpus" with one of the wild things. The image appears in Kelsey-Woodlawn, Saskatoon, SK, Canada and is reprinted with permission from WikimediaCommons.