One hundred writers of children’s literature are sitting in a classroom listening to our teacher describe what makes a perfect picture book. On the screen is Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.
One hundred children are sitting under a tree at a day camp where I used to work. Sunlight drips through the leaves as they listen wide-eyed to the counsellor reading from a picture book that they’ve probably heard one hundred times before, but it doesn’t matter. The book is Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.
Carole King wrote music to his poems and stories Really Rosie and Pierre (which this blogger played in a camp production of the musical in the 1990s.) Stephen Colbert’s recent interview with him went viral within minutes and his new book, I Am a Pole (And So Can You!) has a quote from Sendak on the cover: “The sad thing is, I like it.” Spike Jonze adapted Where the Wild Things Are into a complex film about what it means to grow up. And we all remember the cartoon that was played countless times in elementary school.
Who some would say is the godfather of children’s literature, Maurice Sedak (June 10, 1928 – May 8, 2012), died today at the age of 83, and generations of writers and readers will never be the same. The Caldecott Medal winner amazed critics for exploring our darker/shadow side in Where the Wild Things Are and pushing the boundaries of children’s literature, which before then had been heavily didactic and sanitary. Consistently admired, his book, In the Night Kitchen, has been banned by school libraries for some of its content.
For me, Sendak’s Chicken Soup with Rice is the one that sticks out. Something about the rhythm or the (ironic) feeling of safety when I think of the consistency of having chicken soup with rice while “slippin’ on the slidin’ ice” conveys the duality of Sendak’s work. This is something we can all relate to. It imbues his work with a sense of timelessness and will continue to inspire writers and readers of children’s literature for generations to come.
For many of us, our childhoods were defined by Sendak. As adults we share his stories with the children in our lives, making us all want to join that wild rumpus again and again.