A Tribute to Maurice Sendak
Today a brilliant man who understood that childhood is not all sunshine and rainbows passed from the world.
Not All Sunshine and Rainbows
Maurice Sendak knew children and the realm of childhood. He respected the serious nature of the developmental stages of childhood. By creating works that reverberated with meaning, he showed the deep places and truth of childhood. He knew that sometimes Maxes do wear their wolf suits and make mischief of one kind or another. He knew that sometimes they want to run wild and be amongst the wild things and escape from the constraints that adults place on them.
I remember working in a childcare setting and we were asked to place a paper cutout of “underwear” on Mickey from In the Night Kitchen. Mickey is a young boy who has a surreal dream about baking a cake with a trio of bakers who resemble Oliver Hardy. In the book, the batter is in him and he is in the batter. This oneness with the batter continues until he comes out of the batter, creates a dough airplane, and retrieves milk to finish the cake.
This wildly creative book won the Caldecott Award in 1971 despite the controversy over the depiction of a nude Mickey. Critics of the book have objected to Mickey’s nudity which includes not only his buttocks, but also his penis and testicles. Sexual innuendo has been interpreted from the plot points in the book,– the nudity, free-flowing milky fluids, and giant milk bottle. The inclusion of Mickey’s nudity has been frequently raised as morally problematic.
In the Night Kitchen is one of the most banned or challenged books in the United States. I thought when we were asked to cover Mickey that it was ridiculous. I still do. Have you ever watched a three year old gleefully run naked through the house? Gleeful because they know that they are naked and they don’t care and they are savoring the freedom of that moment.
Maurice Sendak created the pictures, story and lyrics for the musical “Really Rosie”. It is a celebration of the toughness of little girls. Tonight I will listen to the incomparable Carole King’s voice as she sings the main character from Really Rosie— a story about a precocious girl who organizes all the children in her neighborhood into a performance troupe to act out the musical of the demise of her brother. Rosie dreams of stardom. Not sugar and spice and everything nice.
Where the Wild Things Are
Who hasn’t wanted to escape to a faraway land? Who hasn’t wanted to party with wild creatures that won’t judge you or place restrictions on you? I can remember reading “Where the Wild Things Are” to groups of preschool children and having them rise up when the wild rumpus started and pretend to be part of the party. We all need a bit of wild rumpusing now and again. I hope when I dream this evening I will see fanged, horned, and striped monsters and I will cry out “Let the Wild Rumpus begin!” Mr. Sendak you will be missed.