Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Thank you, Mr Sendak

“The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind.
And another.
His mother called him “WILD THING!”
And Max said: “I’LL EAT YOU UP!”
So Max was sent to bed without eating anything.
That very night in Max’s room a forest grew
And grew–”

And so begins the magnificent Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. This wonderful romp into the imagination has such special meaning for me. Published in 1963, it was a controversial, rule- and ground- breaking book.

Though a child of the Sixties, Where the Wild Things Are isn’t part of my childhood memories. In fact it wasn’t until I was a young teacher in the Eighties that I became aware of it. And it was love at first sight.

Where the Wild Things Are was the book that inspired many a lesson and spirited reading; the book that I could recite from memory (and frequently did); the book that terrified my own children (perhaps it was that spirited reading and my over-enthusiastic gnashing of teeth!); the book that opened my eyes and heart to the world of children’s literature; and ultimately the book that stirred in me the desire to become a writer of children’s books myself.

One sizzling hot day on a trip to New York I accidentally stumbled on a gallery in Soho that housed a collection of original drawings, roughs and paintings from Where the Wild Things Are. I was in a particularly grumpy mood this day: it was stinking hot and we’d just missed the ferry to the Statue of Liberty. My husband ushered me inside the gallery primarily because it was air-conditioned and we were desperate. When we realised that is was a children book illustration gallery, I can remember the wry smile that played on Pete’s lips. Pete is not a children’s book enthusiast, but he knows his wife. And when we went down stairs and discovered the Maurice Sendak drawings, he knew he’d struck gold. We stepped back out onto the sweltering pavement an hour or so later, after a wonderful discussion and tour with the curator, and my eyes were happy, my heart full.

Maurice Sendak passed away this week, aged 83. But his books live on, and will continue to inspire and bring great joy to young (and not so young) readers.            .
Thank you, Mr Sendak. Rest in peace.