Sign up for our newsletters   

Baltimore City Paper home.
Print Email

Big Books Feature

Maurice Sendak

Big Books Issue 2008

YA City Paper's Big Books Issue 2008 | By Bret McCabe

When Books Could Change Your Life Why What We Pore Over At 12 May Be The Most Important Reading We Ever Do | By Tim Kreider

The Invisibles Young Adult Fiction Has Yet to Hear The Voices of Young, Urban, and Black Readers | By Michael Corbin

The Big Questions Science Fiction and Young Adult Fiction Share Themes and, Hopefully, Readers | By Adrienne Martini

See Spot Rejected Some Helpful Don'ts For Cracking Into Children's Publishing | By Brian Sendelbach

Teen Screams Dark Young Adult Fiction Captures Rudderless Horrors of Contemporary Adolescence | By Ian Grey

Little Golden Books It's difficult to imagine an American childhood without Little Golden Books--you know, the ubiquito... | By Michelle Gienow

Maurice Sendak Somehow I had always assumed that Maurice Sendak was French. Even as a child, I found Where the Wil... | By Lee Gardner

Nausicaa of The Valley of Wind In 2008, Spirited Away director Hayao Miyazaki probably needs little in the way of an introduction,... | By Jess Harvell

By Lee Gardner | Posted 9/24/2008

Somehow I had always assumed that Maurice Sendak was French. Even as a child, I found Where the Wild Things Are so strange and so different from the cheery colors and elementary narratives of most books written for kids. I wouldn't have been able to express it back then, but Wild Things was clearly a story from some other world that didn't have Saturday morning cartoons and comic books and Judeo-Christian moralistic tales like the ones I was used to. There was misbehavior that ultimately went unpunished. There were gnashing fangs and sinister glaring yellow eyes. There were several pages with no words at all--just images of wild rumpus to galvanize any young imagination.

Before my oldest son could even hold up his own head, I had added Wild Things to his budding library and augmented it with a copy of Sendak's In the Night Kitchen, which my wife knew as a child. Reading Wild Things again as an adult, I was struck anew by its language, with Max sailing on his magical boat "in and out of weeks and almost over a year" and returning "into the night of his very own room," the adroitly mixed metaphors and odd page/line breaks intensifying the dreamlike aura of the tale. Night Kitchen was even more dreamlike, and even more revelatory. It has endured efforts to ban it in this country, and I can kind of understand why, as a naked child slips out of bed into a wild fantasia of fat bakers who all look like Oliver Hardy, being baked alive into a cake, flying a dough plane, and water tower-like bottles of milk. Again, Sendak breaks up the rat-a-tat trochees of singsong kiddie verse with abrupt stops and bizarre outbursts, helping to create a completely otherworldly yarn without ever using any word a 4-year-old wouldn't know. Again, there is no moral, no lesson learned, just a world usually hidden behind closed eyelids laid out on the page.

Given his unusual name and the perfectly imperfect nature of his choice of words, I still assumed Sendak was from some curious European place, a non-native speaker of English. I Googled him recently and discovered that he was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. He is the son of Polish-Jewish immigrants but grew up with English and Mickey Mouse and comic books, just like I did. Only, obviously, not.

Related stories

Big Books Feature archives

More Stories

Going Short (9/23/2009)
Some authors simply prefer compact storytelling over the novel's wordy road

Let's Get Short (9/23/2009)
City Paper's Big Books Issue 2009 takes a look at fiction's overlooked gems

Neverending Stories (9/23/2009)
Short stories continue to be where sci-fi writers explore their big ideas

More from Lee Gardner

The Lady Vanishes (8/4/2010)
Meet Henrietta Vinton Davis-one of the most amazing women you've probably never heard of

Blaster Master (7/14/2010)
Landis Expandis can't live without his radios

The Black Box (6/16/2010)
Baltimore's African-American indie filmmakers search for an audience

Comments powered by Disqus
Calendar
CP on Facebook
CP on Twitter