Maurice Sendak Taught Us to Love Wild Things

May 8, 2012

Just 3, my son stomped around the living room banging his drum and occasionally growling. He urged me to follow. I did, trying to hide giggles as I roared.

Another day, we mixed the batter for chocolate chip cookies. “Milk for the morning cake! Milk!” my son Simon shouted as we poured in ingredients.

On a lazy post-nap afternoon, we cuddled as we watched a video about a little boy named Pierre who was so cantankerous that he did not even care if a lion swallowed him whole. Together, we warbled every time the narrator, Carole King, sung, “I don’t care.”

Thank you, author Maurice Sendak, for each of those precious moments with my son Simon. Thank you for what you have given countless children, parents, and grandparents, and all of the readers of your books.

The news of Maurice Sendak’s death today at age 83 saddened me more than I could have imagined. Imagine. Mr. Sendak gave so many of us the freedom to imagine not just of rainbows and angels but of what those monsters under the bed might look like.

I remember few books from my early childhood except for Where the Wild Things Are. I don’t remember why I loved that book so, but it doesn’t matter. I am reliving my love of that short tale and other Sendak books through my son.

My husband and I began introducing Sendak’s books to Simon more than a year ago, shortly before he turned 3. I at first wondered if Simon was too young for Where the Wild Things Are with its illustrations of scary creatures and its tale of a boy who leaves home and ends up on an island with beasts. Simon taught me not to be so afraid of what may or may not scare him. Children are wise. They’ll let you know when something is too much. In fact, at age 4, Simon regularly perches himself at the top of our family room stairs to watch “Beauty and the Beast.” He is too scared to sit too close to the television screen in the early scenes. The beast is just too ferocious.

Nothing, though, seems to scare Simon in Where the Wild Things Are. He embraces the wild things as something endearing and funny. If Max could march with beasts, so could Simon.

And yet, our son likes to sleep with his light on. If he wakes up early to find we have shut the light off, he shouts out, “Turn the light on.” Even this morning, he woke up at 5 a.m. and said, “I’m scared of the dark.”

But Max’s “wild things” aren’t the monsters hiding under the bed. They are what a little boy or girl imagines to fill some kind of need. I will forever love this book, and I know my son will, too. We don’t read it now as much as we used to, but it remains on a book shelf. Every time we read it, Simon laughs at the same parts. And he often wants to have a parade.

Mr. Sendak broke the rules on children’s books, so often filled with everything light, airy, and well fairy-like. Life is not always Disney Land. Even little children know that. Thank you, Maurice Sendak, for showing us the world as you saw it.

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2 Responses to Maurice Sendak Taught Us to Love Wild Things

  1. Thank you for sharing these moments! Your writing is lovely and goes right where it needs to go. We need those Wild Things, don’t we?

  2. Linda says:

    Thank you! We so need stories that give us all the slivers of life. I read Where the Wild Things Are to my son again a few nights ago. He has not outgrown that timeless story.

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