One of the decided and unexpected pleasures of being a parent is reading aloud to my daughter. One of the less pleasurable aspects of this job is having to read that one book again and again and again and, “once more!” We are saved by writers like Maurice Sendak who wrote poetry in the disguise of children’s books. Poetry is meant to be repeated:
That very night in Max’s room a forest grew
and grew until his ceiling hung with vines
and the walls became the world all around
and an ocean tumbled by with a private boat for Max
and he sailed off through night and day
and in and out of weeks
and almost over a year
to where the wild things are.
Maurice Sendak died in May of this year. Terri Gross of NPR’s “Fresh Air”, did a series of interviews with Sendak over the years that are nothing short of genius and that track the artist’s process with humor and insight. If you haven’t heard them yet you can here.
While the Fresh Air interviews moved me to tears, ( Sendak is very much in touch with his own mortality in the last one) Sendak’s interview with Stephen Colbert, that he gave just a few months before he died, showcases his dry humor. In the Colbert interview, he also revealed: “I don’t write for children. I write and somebody says, “that’s for children.” This must explain why adults find his work as compelling as children do. That, and his complex drawings that exhibit a world of invention, humor and a deep understanding of what it means to be human. See the Colbert interview here. (http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/406796/january-24-2012/grim-colberty-tales-with-maurice-sendak-pt–1)
Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are gets the attention that classics are entitled to, but for me, his illustrations for the series of “Little Bear” books and his creation of the “Nutshell Library” which includes the rhyming, “Chicken Soup with Rice,” “Alligator’s All Around” and “Pierre,” are what make him one of my favorite writers/illustrators. He influenced a generation of picture books with his signature cross-hatched drawings. If you re-read books from the 1960s and 1970s you will see this cross hatching in many other great books for young readers. Take a look at Patricia Coombs’ “Dorrie, the Witch” books, too.
Sendak’s respect for the inner life of children kept him from pandering to kids with cute cartoon characters or plot lines filled with puppies and kitty cats. His characters were monsters with duck feet, or plump cooks who liked to cook up little boys (“In the Night Kitchen”) or a churlish boy named Pierre who automatically repeats, “I don’t care,” to every parental request and eventually gets gobbled up and extracted from a lion’s belly. His understanding and embracing of the shadow side also contains a lot of humor that kids seem to get on a visceral and intuitive level. He believed that children were very much in touch with the darker aspects of life and that adults shouldn’t try to shield them from exploring their demons.
In one of the Fresh Air interviews, Sendak tells Terry Gross about a child who had sent him a card. After responding to this child with a drawing of a Wild Thing, he told Gross, “I wrote, ‘Dear Jim, I loved your card.’ Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, ‘Jim loved your card so much he ate it.’ That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.”
Julie is a fiction writer, yoga teacher and licensed clinician in private somatic/ yoga therapy practice. She is the author of the widely read “365 Yoga: Daily Meditations,” a Tarcher/Penguin book that has been converted into a daily boxed set calendar published yearly by Sellars Publishers. Julie is writing a novel set in Kerala, India and you can join her next February 2013 on a Yoga Retreat to Southern India. Read more here: http://www.yogabliss.com or here: Awaken Yoga Bliss (Facebook).
Blog Editor’s Note: Angie Powers’ “Public, Not Perfect” series will resume next week!