When I was in preschool, my mother would read me “Where the Wild Things Are,” the story of a boy who becomes “king of all wild things” after being sent to bed without supper, before bedtime.
I loved that book. I loved it more than any other story book I had, the ones with princesses and frogs, bunnies and bears.
Somehow, the story about Max traveling to the land of monsters seemed the most real. As my other books found themselves in donation bins at the library, I kept “Where the Wild Things Are.” I still have it.
Maurice Sendak, the author and illustrator of the 1963 book, died Tuesday after complications from a stroke. He was 83. He leaves behind “no survivors, just millions of readers from several generations who were amused, scared and inspired by his work,” according to a USA TODAY story.
When I heard about his death (through Twitter, of course) I thought back to those nights when my mom would read me the book that both inspired me and scared me.
I didn’t understand it then, but I think I liked the book so much because I identified with the monsters, who, because of their immense size, were misunderstood. As an undersized girl, it made me happy to see that the monsters were more than what their appearance suggested.
Or maybe I liked the book so much because Max gets to have fun even after he is punished for making mischief. For a five-year-old, I was a sassy little thing, and took great comfort knowing I could just sail off to a magical place when I was in timeout.
“And now,” cried Max, “let the wild rumpus start!”
Much to my dismay, I never had quite the same wild rumpus as Max, no matter how many times I closed my eyes and tried to imagine being Queen of the Wild Things.
Thankfully, I had the Sendak-illustrated pictures in the book to look at instead.
Sendak understood that childhood could be scary and that children had fears, both real and perceived. Looking back, I saw that illustrations are dark, his message is even darker.
No matter how many times my mom read me the part where the monsters ask him to stay, Max always came back home to find his supper still hot. He could travel to the land of the monsters, have a wild rumpus, and still make it home.
As I grew up I realized life doesn’t always turn out that way, but at that time I was inspired by the thought.
Sendak wrote other great books, like “In The Night Kitchen,” about a boy’s dream where he helps a baker bake a cake.
When he wakes up, everything is the same, except for the new memories he has. I liked that book, too, and was glad to read while doing research for this story that it is consistently on challenged book lists because of a nude illustration, which I never noticed.
But his best-known work was “Where the Wild Things are.” On my bookshelf, amongst history textbooks and AP style guides, sits the children’s book. I opened it yesterday and journeyed back to my childhood and to the land of the monsters.
Thanks, Maurice Sendak. Thank you for the Wild Rumpus.
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