Remembering Maurice Sendak

The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind and another…………His mother called him “WILD THING!” and Max said “I’LL EAT YOU UP!” so he was sent to bed without eating anything. 

maurice sendak's best sellerThose are the first sentences in the book Where the Wild Things Are, winner of the 1964 Caldecott Medal for children’s literature. When they were small my sons loved Where the Wild Things Are so much I had to read it over and over and over. Although it’s probably been more than twenty years since I read it last, I can still recite almost all of the text from memory.  

Maurice Sendak, the author of Where the Wild Things Are died today. Although he was most famous for Where the Wild Things Are I was equally passionate about some of his other books. 

When I taught kindergarten and grade one I used the rhymes from Sendak’s book Chicken Soup With Rice to help children learn the months of the year.  Sendak had created a funny illustrated poem for each month and the children and I chanted them together. I can still recite many of these too. Sendak’s interesting drawings and lyrical text were easy to remember.

I’ll never forget the stir this book of Sendak’s caused when it arrived at the elementary school where I was teaching. The story is about a little boy who has a dream he is helping to bake a cake. On a number of pages in the book he is nude and his penis is showing. Our school librarian solved the controversy about whether to put the book on the library shelves or not, by drawing in and coloring little pairs of pyjamas on the boy on all the pages where he was naked. 

My very favorite Sendak book however is Pierre. There is nothing that frustrates a teacher or parent more than a child who constantly says, “I don’t care.” That is exactly what Pierre does.

“What would you like to eat?”

“I don’t care!”

“Some lovely cream of wheat?”

“I don’t care!”

“Don’t sit backwards on your chair.”

“I don’t care!”

“Or pour syrup in your hair.”

“I don’t care!”

 Sendak makes sure Pierre learns his lesson. Pierre meets a lion and his “I don’t care” refrain results in him being eaten alive. Luckily a doctor gets Pierre out of the lion’s stomach……. but after his ordeal he never says “I don’t care” again. It reminds me a bit of the Jonah and the whale story in the Bible. 

Some people have criticized Sendak because his books are on the dark side and involve rebellious children and scary monsters. But his characters and story lines are no more frightening than those of many fairy tales in which witches kidnap children to fatten them up for eating, and a little girl in a red hood gets gobbled up by a wolf and a naughty child trespasses in the home of three bears.
I saw the movie Where the Wild Things Are based on Sendak’s book in 2009 and even had my picture taken with my face in the hood of Max’s wolf suit. I didn’t like the movie. The book is great but the film makers tried too hard to stretch the story into a movie and lost the audience’s interest along the way. 
Maurice Sendak  was quite a crusty fellow,  the epitome of a crumudgeon. The last time I saw him was in January on the Colbert Report when he told Stephen Colbert, ” I don’t write for children. I write and then someone says, “That’s for children.”  Sendak also said he didn’t write to make children happy or make life easier for them, admitting that while he didn’t really like people, he did like children better than adults. 
Maurice Sendak has left a lasting legacy in children’s literature. 
You can read an updated version of this post here.
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1 Comment

Filed under Books, Childhood, Education, People

One response to “Remembering Maurice Sendak

  1. Thank you for your tribute to Maurice Sendak. Somehow I had forgotten (how could I possibly have?) that, of course, Chicken Soup With Rice was his, and it was a favorite when my son was little.
    “Oh my oh once oh my oh twice
    Oh my oh chicken soup with rice”


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