“There must be more to life than having everything.”
– Maurice Sendak
Another day, another piece of my childhood gone. Maurice Sendak, renowned children’s author and illustrator, passed away at the age of 83.
Sendak is best known for writing Where The Wild Things Are, which was one of my favorite books growing up. That isn’t all that original. I think Where The Wild Things Are was pretty much standard issue for kids growing up in the 80s and 90s, who then in turn introduced their children to it. I don’t have my own children yet, but I did do a lot of babysitting from age 12 on, so I’ve read Where The Wild Things Are many, many times. And even on heavy rotation, I still enjoyed it every time. The journey that Max takes to the land of the Wild Things after being sent to bed without supper resonates with children of all ages. As a child, who doesn’t dream of a place where all sorts of mischief is allowed? The Wild Things, as conceptualized and drawn by Sendak, are wonderful and terrifying monsters. But more poignant is Max’s realization that being king of the Wild Things isn’t all that isn’t cracked up to be and his longing to return to his mother who, though punishing him, he knows loves him:
And Max, the king of all wild things, was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all.
This sentiment isn’t only for children; who among us, even as adults, doesn’t crave the idea of being with someone that loves them above all others? It’s the reason that match.com exists.
Though Where The Wild Things Are is Sendak’s best known book, I have a special fondness for a project that he did with Carole King in 1975. They collaborated to adapt some of Sendak’s books, including Chicken Soup With Rice and Alligators All Around into a musical called Really Rosie. While I never saw the play performed, I was a big fan of the 30 minute animated television special that they also produced as part of the project. I went to a lot of programs at the local library when I was a kid, and Really Rosie was one of the films that was shown. I always got so excited when that one was featured. As a little girl who secretly dreamed of being on stage, though lacking any real talent, I could identify with Sednak’s title character who decided to gather her friends together to tell the story of her life. Carole King was the voice of Rosie, as well as the composer of the music and song, and since the album Tapestry was played a lot in my house, I was probably especially drawn to the special.
What made Sendak so appealing was that not only did he like children, but he respected them. He didn’t think that they needed to necessarily be infantilized or spoken down to. When it was first released, Where The Wild Things Are was greeted with some controversy because it was feared that it was too dark and scary for children and that it glorified disobedience. Sendak thought that children could handle and process more that they were usually given credit for. When asked about the difference of writing for adults versus writing for children, Sendak said “”I don’t believe that there’s a demarcation. ‘Oh, you mustn’t tell them that. You mustn’t tell them that.’ You tell them anything you want. Just tell them if it’s true. If it’s true, you tell them.”
Recently, Sendak made a hilarious appearance on The Colbert Report, discussing a variety of topics. It is one of the funniest interviews the show has done and I re-watched it many times on my DVR. He is delightfully crotchety and grumpy in the best way possible. Part one of the interview can be found here, part two can be found here.
Sendak’s last book, My Brother’s Book, will be published posthumously in February. It is hard to believe that this will be the last morsel we get from this creative and innovative mind. His legacy, however, will live on in the future generations of children who read and enjoy his books.