Friday, June 11, 2010

Everything I Know I Learned from Maurice Sendak

Quick, when I say "Maurice Sendak," what's the first thing you think of? I'm betting it's WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. Mr. Sendak wrote and/or illustrated a great many children's books, among them IN THE NIGHT KITCHEN, CHICKEN SOUP WITH RICE, and the LITTLE BEAR books by Else Holmelund Minarik. But he will forever be remembered as the creator of Max and those great furry wild things.

Now, I could stop this blog right here. As a writer and presenter at schools, I am often asked what it's like to be famous. My standard answer is that I'm not, nor do I ever want to be. I do, however, want my books to be famous, well-loved, and read often. To have one of my books achieve the kind of immortality that WILD THINGS has done, and to have my name forever associated with it--well, that's a dream as wild as anything Max dreamed up, and I don't expect there's a hot meal waiting for me at the end of it either.

But I always wondered just where those wild things came from. Why do they connect with us so well? Mr. Sendak admitted he based them somewhat on his much-dreaded Brooklyn relatives. As a child, he was frightened by these large aunts and uncles who pinched his cheeks and said stupid-adult things like, "Oh, you're so cute I could eat you up," though he knew they never would. He tapped into that frightening/loving persona for his wild things. And thereby tapped into a classic childhood fear. Because don't all children have some kind of wild thing in their lives?

This week (June 10) marks the 82nd birthday of Maurice Sendak. Happy birthday, Mr. Sendak. And may the wild rumpus start.

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