Our family has a long association with Maurice Sendak, children’s book author and illustrator. In my childhood, I (or at least our house) had a copy of Where the Wild Things Are. I especially loved Max’s room and how his supper was warm in it. We weren’t ever allowed to eat in our bedrooms. To the young me, it seemed fantastic and wonderful that Max could have supper in his room, especially after such misbehavior and such an adventure (even in his dreams).
When my husband and I were first married and he had convinced me that a puppy was a good idea, the first book we read together about it was The Art of Raising Your Puppy by the Monks of New Skete, an order of Orthodox brothers who train dogs as their charism. For some reason, it was comforting that Maurice Sendak had his dogs trained personally with the Monks, as they discuss in the books.
And when children came to our house, Where the Wild Things Are was a perennial favorite at bedtime. In particular, after a bad day, it was one of the very reliable soothing books, along with Goodnight Moon and really anything by Margaret Wise Brown. Knowing that your supper would be waiting for you after adventures, that mom and dad will love you no matter how “wild” you are. It’s just a perfect book. With every one of our children, whenever I got to the line, “and Max wanted to be where someone loved him best of all…” each one of our children would blurt out, “with his mommy and his daddy” as if it were in actually written in the text, and so for that book, for us, it is.
When I kept a personal blog many years ago, I had pseudonyms for my children, and our son’s name was “Max.” Now you know why.
Somewhere, many years ago, I read that Where The Wild Things Are is like a kids’ version of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Read it again with that in mind, and I think you will agree.
We have never seen the movie that was made several years back. None of us really wanted to, even though the promotions were quite appealing. I just don’t know how you can improve upon or make a full-length movie about a perfect picture book. It’s like making a movie about The Runaway Bunny. How can it possibly be any good?
Maurice Sendak illustrated, but did not write, the Little Bear books (writing was by Else Holmelund Minarik) , and I saw an interview with Sendak once in which he mentioned how important it was for him to get the mother illustrated just so. The illustrations are what “make” the Little Bear series, and noticed how the picture that Little Bear drew in the story, A Kiss for Little Bear is a primitive Wild-Thing like monster. The Little Bear books were so popular young-age books at our house. Our oldest had “Birthday Soup” memorized at 3 years old–there’s a video of that somewhere (oh, what did we people do who had kids before YouTube?). We also know large parts of most of the rest of the Little Bear books. I have especially fond memories of illustrations in The Goblin Story and Little Bear is Not Sleepy and oh, just about all the others. So I’m going to stop now.
Sendak had a book come out in the last year, but it was not well-reviewed. I didn’t like all of Sendak’s work, so it wouldn’t surprise me if this one isn’t great. Where the Wild Things Are and Little Bear are enough to make him well-loved at our house.
Earlier today, I was driving into town to meet my husband for noon Mass, and I listened to a part of the NPR show “Fresh Air” where today, the show replayed several previous interviews host Terry Gross did with Sendak in recent years. [As a total aside, can I say that she is an AMAZING interviewer when not constrained by the age of celebrity and uber-scripted interviews, which sadly is most of the time these days].
She asked Sendak at one point about his lack of faith (Sendak had been raised Jewish), and mentioned she thought his unbelief seemed to grow stronger instead of being tested. He said something along the lines of (I’m paraphrasing here) “oh, yes, absolutely, I don’t think there is anything after death, which is why it’s so sad when my friends die.” And yet he said he did not fear death, and did not mind getting old as it allowed him time to read books and listen to great music. But then he said, a choke in his voice, “I believe I will see my brother again.”
“I have nothing now but praise for my life. I’m not unhappy. I cry a lot because I miss people. They die and I can’t stop them. They leave me and I love them more. … What I dread is the isolation. … There are so many beautiful things in the world which I will have to leave when I die, but I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready.”
After listening to this, and hearing his search for the good and beautiful, I can only to pray for him in the fond hope that he is re-united with his brother, where are all re-united perfectly. I need to start a category in labels of “not far from the Kingdom of God,” for which I consider Maurice Sendak in that category, along with Steve Jobs. All these Emeths (from C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle who “all find what they truly seek.”