Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Tribute to Maurice Sendak

Maurice Sendak died on May 8 at age 83. His influence in children’s literature is immeasurable, primarily because of his groundbreaking picture book, Where the Wild Things Are.  I don’t believe that it would be an overstatement to say that Where the Wild Things Are may be the most influential picture book of the 20th century. So influential, I might add, that I have a grandson named Max after the hero of the book.

Max is a naughty boy who gets mad at his mother and is sent to bed without any supper. And like the hero of Greek mythology he sets sail:
              "Through night and day
   and in and out of weeks
   and almost over a year
   to where the wild things are.”

My favorite line in the book is “Let the wild rumpus start.” I think of that line every time all my grandchildren arrive at the house and every time we have a party. My other favorite line comes at the beginning of the book when Max begins his mischief, and his mother reprimands him. He gets so mad he tells his mother, “I’ll eat you up!” which is the reason he is sent to his room.

Before Max, most picture book children were well-behaved little things, and picture books told stories with morals and nothing bad ever happened. Where the Wild Things Are tells the story of the interior life of an angry little boy and how he deals with that anger. I believe that is why children identify so strongly with Max. He can get really angry, but he finds ways in his imagination to deal with that anger. Kids get the moral of that story. . .we can learn to deal with anger in an interior way and return to the real world calmed and reflective. Where the Wild Things Are opened a floodgate of picture books which dealt with children’s anger and all the other things that children face—death, fear of abandonment or not fitting in, as well as all the other childhood experiences, including the rich imaginary experiences so similar to Max’s. 

I watched my year-old granddaughter get really mad at dinner a couple of nights ago. Her father pulled her out of the high chair and carried her into the living room to cool off. Her fit subsided and she returned to finish her dinner. . .”and it was still warm.”

 Here is an article in the Christian Science Monitor about Sendak with a video interview:

No comments: