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Wild Things: A Tribute to Maurice Sendak

by Miriam Downey 11. May 2012 08:46

I started writing a blog posting about adventure books, but it will have to be postponed because I want to pay tribute to my all-time favorite children's book, Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak.

Maurice Sendak died on May 8 at age 83. His influence on children's literature is immeasurable, primarily because of his groundbreaking picture book, Where the Wild Things Are. I don't believe 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, 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."

I can't say that I recommend all of Maurice Sendak's books. I do like Chicken Soup with Rice, The Nutshell Library, and In the Night Kitchen, although I do have to mention that the little boy is naked in In the Night Kitchen. Maurice Sendak also illustrated many books by other authors including, Little Bear by Minarik and A Hole is to Dig by Kraus.

The New York Times quotes a letter that Maurice Sendak received from an 8-year-old: "Dear Mr. Sendak, How much does it cost to get to where the wild things are? If it is not expensive, my sister and I would like to spend the summer there."

In honor of Maurice Sendak, why don't you pull out your copy of Where the Wild Things Are or borrow one from the library? Have your children read it, and then write a story or essay about anger, or imagination, or "wild things" or whatever comes into their heads. It would be a fitting tribute to a great children's author and a great American book.

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