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Thursday, October 18, 2012

October 18, 2012: Maurice Sendak

[This week, I have the wonderful opportunity to be a Celebrity Reader—emphasis on the celebrity, right? Right?!—for both of my sons’ elementary school classes. So in honor of that occasion, I’ll feature blog posts on children’s books and authors and American Studies. Please share your own favorite books and authors (or problematic ones—I’m looking at you, Curious George), and any other thoughts on children’s lit, for the weekend’s crowd-sourced post!]
Those who know me, and more exactly know how I feel about William Faulkner, will know just how much of a compliment it is for me to say that Maurice Sendak was the Faulkner of children’s books.
I don’t mean that in an American Studies way. Compared to Faulkner and his profound connection to a particular place and world, and likewise compared to the other children’s authors and books that have appeared in this space this week—Margaret Weis Brown and her educational advocacy, Ezra Jack Keats and The Snowy Day, Virginia Lee Burton and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel—Sendak and his works were particularly universal, connected to themes and images, narratives and emotions, that exist outside of any national tradition and, often, in the deepest cores of kids’ and all of our identities and lives. Does it make any difference where Max’s room is, what city Mickey’s night kitchen might emulate, where stubborn uncaring Pierre and his parents (and the lion) live? No, I don’t think it does.
Instead, what made Sendak Faulkner-esque, for me, was his ability, particularly in Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen, to create perhaps the closest thing to a true stream of consciousness style in children’s literature. Those books are pure representations of (respectively) the imagination and the dream, of the places where a child’s—and, again, all of our—mind and soul can go when inspired and given free reign. And whereas Faulkner’s stream of consciousness could be deeply discomfiting and frustrating, demanding multiple reads and intense analytical work, Sendak’s feels so right, so immediate, hits us—and doubly so hits kids, I have found—right where we live. If that’s not a gift, and a rare and powerful one, I don’t know what is.
May you find all the wild things and morning cake you can handle, Mr. Sendak. An American author and artist whose works and words will live on forever. Final children’s book post tomorrow,
Ben
PS. Well, my final post tomorrow. Remember to share your responses, nominations, perspectives for the weekend’s post!
10/18 Memory Day nominees: A tie between two very very distinct but equally influential and significant American artists, Helen Hunt Jackson and Chuck Berry.

2 comments:

  1. I remember listening to an NPR interview with Sendak before he passed away. They were talking about his last book Bumble-Ardy and how he was able to write it during a particularly dark period of his life. The most poignant part of the interview came when Sendak said there were two lines in Bumble-Ardy that meant more to him than any other he had ever written.

    Bumble-Ardy is a pig that lives with his aunt and has never had a birthday party. Close to his ninth birthday, he invites many of the rowdy pigs in town to his aunt's home while she is at work and their party gets very out of hand. When Bumble-Ardy's aunt returns from work later and sees the big mess, she said "Okay, Smarty. You've had your party but never again." Bumble-Ardy replied "I promise, I swear, I'll never turn ten."

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  2. On a much sillier note, the title "Higgiledy Piggledy Pop, or There Must be More to Life" is phrase that I and my siblings have continually used to describe bad days for over a decade. I know I'm spelling the title wrong and maybe Sendak only did the illustrations, but the phrase and the story just moved into our vocabulary. Now, it's code on the phone or in texts for when things aren't going well, but said with sweetness, not anger. Irene

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