On Wild Things and Maurice Sendak

by Abby on May 8, 2012

As a tribute to Maurice Sendak, who died Tuesday at the age of 83, I read my 3yo son Where the Wild Things Are before his nap. Riley is a Wild Thing incarnate. He, too, has dressed up in animal costumes, chased our dog with forks and swords, threatened to eat me up. I have the teeth marks to prove it.

Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak

In the rocking chair, his warm, heavy body snuggled against mine in the darkened room, we imagined a forest growing up around us, the ceiling hung with vines. We roared our terrible roars and gnashed our terrible teeth and showed our terrible claws. I picked my favorite character: the stripey Wild Thing, and Riley picked his: Max, naturally. Then, when I got to the final page, my son delivered the most rewarding response an author could ever hope to get from a child: “Again!”

Maurice Sendak delivered the commencement address at my graduation from Vassar College in 1996. I don’t remember much about his speech, except that I’m pretty sure he mentioned safe sex and he closed with “Let the wild rumpus start!”

It wasn’t until years later that I read interviews with him and learned that a) he did not have any children, like so many other renowned children’s authors, and b) he was kind of a curmudgeon. But man, was he a fascinating character. Did you know he worked as a window dresser at FAO Schwarz in the 1940’s?

Here are some of my favorite Maurice Sendak quotes:

On writing for children:

“They are a better audience and tougher critics [than adults]. Kids tell you what they think, not what they think they should think.”

“They don’t know about bestsellers. They go for what they enjoy. They aren’t star chasers and they don’t suck up. It’s why I like them.”

“Children are tough, though we tend to think of them as fragile. They have to be tough. Childhood is not easy. We sentimentalize children, but they know what’s real and what’s not. They understand metaphor and symbol. If children are different from us, they are more spontaneous. Grown-up lives have become overlaid with dross.”

On e-books:

“I hate them. It’s like making believe there’s another kind of sex. There isn’t another kind of sex. There isn’t another kind of book! A book is a book is a book.”

And on Where the Wild Things Are:

“Children who fight back, children who are full of excitement are the kind of children I like.”

Something tells me Sendak would have really liked my boys.

LINK O’ THE DAY: Writer Elizabeth Bastos, on reading “In the Night Kitchen” as an adult.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Frume Sarah May 8, 2012 at 11:20 pm

Beautifully stated. What a loss…

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Abby May 9, 2012 at 9:24 am

Thanks, R. I never knew how prolific he was, and in so many different mediums, until reading all the obits.

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Rachel May 8, 2012 at 11:21 pm

I LOVE your blog!!! Thanks for your relatable and funny writing. SO glad I found you on the internet.

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Abby May 9, 2012 at 9:25 am

Thank YOU, Rachel! I’m glad you found me, too. 🙂

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Corey Feldman May 9, 2012 at 3:50 pm

I agree with almost everything you said. I do think iPads and ebooks can make for a different experience. Growing up dyslexic I wish these were tools I had at my disposal as a kid. I certainly agree that this is a major loss, and very sad. As I draft my own series, I really keep what you said about children in my mind. My friends who are teachers and who have been reading them to their students, and my friends that are reading them to their kids, I really am pressing for the kids reaction. I mean I want to write something the parents will enjoy as well, G-d knows how many books my kids have that I want to “accidentally” lose. But I know it is what the kids like that will matter in the end.

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Abby May 9, 2012 at 7:23 pm

Just to be clear, these are not MY words, but Sendak’s. I don’t hate ebooks or I wouldn’t have written one! I hear you about wanting to “lose” some of my kids’ books. Specifically, the encyclopedias of farm machinery. 🙂

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Irais March 9, 2017 at 8:45 pm

Now I feel stdipu. That’s cleared it up for me

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http://www.kfzversicherungvergleichtech.pw/ May 24, 2017 at 11:39 am

"They" labor under the illusion that by feeding the crocodile it will not eat them. Well, it might eat them last, but eat them it will!Sultan Knish: when will you put your blog into a book? SERIOUSLY!!!

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jetts31 May 11, 2012 at 10:21 am

His art is why I wanted to draw. It sparked something in me. I kept a copy of ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ with me for as long as I can remember. He was an early inspiration for me.

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