It wasn’t just because I learned of the death of the great illustrator and author Maurice Sendak yesterday that I was thinking of Where the Wild Things Are. I have a little boy who sometimes acts very much like Max in his wolf suit, and even runs around at home in a dragon costume. Yesterday afternoon at the park he really was a Wild Thing, and when we got home I sent him to his room. Eventually, he came out, ate dinner, and hugged me. All Wild Things need to know that they’ll be fed and loved.
I had it off the shelf this morning, because I volunteered to be a guest reader in his classroom this afternoon, and my daughter asked me to read it. We read it through and then went back and looked at the pictures, which tell the story more than anything else. We read “That night a forest grew in Max’s room…” and we turned the pages, looking at the room as the walls fell away to the forest and the night sky. When I read this book to children, I always ask them if they think his room really became a forest. She said yes. For children aged 4, 5, and 6, much of the time this is a real journey. Sometimes it’s a scary one, and sometimes it’s liberating, and sometimes a little of both. In the safety of storyhour when you tell kids to roar their terrible roars and gnash their terrible teeth, it can be fun to get carried away (not for everyone, some kids are truly frightened). It’s one I love to read out loud. It’s a story that’s so much a part of the inner being and outside actions of so many kids.
Here’s a snippet I found online, courtesy of FridayReads, that expresses so well the way kids engage with Where the Wild Things Are. When most of us think of books, even picture books, we think of reading- the written word, or, if we’re reading out loud, the verbal experience. Sendak’s work can’t be fully appreciated with just a reading, though, or even through the incredible artwork that tells so much of the story wordlessly. For some kids, it’s an immersive, emotional book- something they live, not just something they read, as with the child in this story Sendak shared with Terry Gross at NPR:
Sendak’s work, and his life, are a gift to us all, if not an easy one. Rest in peace, Mr. Sendak. But not too much peace.