Thank you, Mr. Sendak

Shortly after I found out I was pregnant with our first child, I went out and bought a hard-cover copy of the best children children’s book ever, “Where the Wild Things Are.” Written in 1963, it was a book I loved when I was young, so I wanted my child to have it as soon as possible.

I’m sure most of you have heard by now that the book’s author, Maurice Sendak, died the other day at the age of 83. I was saddened to hear about it, because that book has had such an impact on my own life. I read it to little kids when I was an older kid and spent countless hours reading it to my own children. We had many a wild rumpus while we were supposed to be settling down for the night. There were many times I jokingly called one of my three kids a “wild thing” and was told “I’ll eat you up!” in response.

Another book by Sendak that I loved was “In the Night Kitchen.” The books appealed to my sense of fun, and I had a great appreciation as an adult for Sendak’s understanding into a child’s imagination. The monsters were mostly fun, but just a little scary, and the kids would snuggle around me on whichever bed we were sitting on so they could look at the beautiful illustrations. It seemed like every time we read the book, one of my little monsters would notice something new about one of Sendak’s little monsters.

When my daughter was in elementary school, she and I had the opportunity to attend a performance of “The Nutcracker” in the Twin Cities. All of the backdrops were painted by Sendak, and it added a great element of fun to the show. Maggie recognized his work at the time, which made me smile.

Several times since my granddaughter was born, I’ve meant to purchase the book for her, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. I suppose because I knew she and her parents were moving by mid-summer, and I figured if I keep giving in and buying Layla all the things a kid needs to be a kid, it would give them more stuff to move. Don’t worry, I’ll get to it after the move.

My husband, who appreciates “Where the Wild Things Are,” is more partial to Virginia Lee Burton’s “Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel.” Even older than “Wild Things,” Mike Mulligan’s story was published in 1939.  A steam shovel operator, Mike and his steam shovel Mary Anne were getting fewer and fewer jobs because of diesel engines, so he made a deal to dig a new town hall in the country in one day.

It is a very cute book, and kids who love tractors and engines will enjoy the dilemma Mike and Mary Anne have to solve.

I was lucky enough to find a very old copy of it several years ago at Read It Again Books in Slayton, and bought it for my husband. He was quite happy, and the book landed in the shelf full of kid books kept upstairs. A few weeks ago, Layla came to visit, and Mike Mulligan made his way downstairs and into the living room. As I read it outloud to her, I looked over and noticed Eric listening with rapt attention, just as caught up in the book as he had been as a child. He smiled at the silly jokes, laughed aloud a time or two and waited with anticipation to see what would happen.

Our copy of Mike Mulligan ended up on top of the entertainment center, leaned up against a stereo speaker. My son Nick was visiting a few weeks later and saw it there.

“Is that Mike Mulligan?” he asked, getting up to examine the book.

“Yes,” his father replied. “It’s mine. You can’t have it.”

Another classic kid book I always loved, “Harold and the Purple Crayon,” I found a reprint of in a Scholastic Books magazine when the kids were still pretty young. Originally published in 1955, it was written by Crockett Johnson. I found a 1991 reprint, I think. It’s the story of a young boy who creates his own world by drawing things. I remember reading it to my little brother when I was barely more than a baby myself, and seeing the way his eyes lit up at the fantastic adventures Harold drew.

Books like these encourage a kid to put down their computer games, Ipads and fancy electronic crap, and learn to read and imagine.

Huh. I just Googled Harold and discovered that an interactive book for Ipads was developed in 2011, and a computer-animated film adaptation was being produced by Will Smith, James Lassiter, and… wait for it… Maurice Sendak.

So, thanks, Mr. Sendak, for all of the enjoyment, giggles, sweet moments and wild rumpuses our family has experienced over the years. I hope that when you got home, your supper was still hot.

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