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Remembering Maurice Sendak and the Wild Things

Be still, my children, and bend your ears. Do you hear it? Readers all over the world are lamenting the passing of the King. “Please don’t go,” they plead, “we love you so.” What’s that?

No, don’t worry. The King of the Wild Things will never leave us. He and his wild friends are forever alive inside the cover of this tattered book. But the King of children’s literature, beloved, risk-taking Maurice Sendak has “sailed off through night and day and in out of weeks.” 

Yes, I do remember that was the line you liked best from the book. I remember how you recited it whenever we went on car trips. 

No, I don’t know how many times we read that book but enough that even today as grown adults, you still know the book word for word, like a beloved poem. 

You never grew weary of watching the illustrations grow and grow until smack in the middle of the book, no words were needed and the pictures were more than enough to satisfy all of us.

Yes, I can close my eyes and see you with your yellow construction-paper crowns marching in your own wild rumpus.

Those images invited you to join the Wild Things if only for the time it took to view the three double-paged spreads. Because stories in books are always malleable for children, you did not always align yourselves with the awful monsters. Some jaunts through the book launched you into mimicking Max’s smirks, using your haughty expressions to assure deference from your own invisible Wild Things. 

It is that time spent with you becoming one with the book that has me mourning Maurice Sendak. He was the miracle maker who could turn you into savvy kings or horrible ogres and still bring you back in time for a hot supper. 

Truth be known, Maurice Sendak allowed me to tame my unseen Wild Things. 

“Parents shouldn't assume children are made out of sugar candy and will break and collapse instantly. Kids don't. We do."

- Maurice Sendak

Sendak would have appreciated knowing he fed my grown-up spirit along side yours. He resented when his books were pigeon-holed for only children. 

So, today I call upon you and your now grown-up friends from childhood to honor Sendak by grabbing a copy of "Where the Wild Things Are" and reading it out loud. 

In these days of ubiquitous bullying programs at schools, young parents might savor a book that invites them to be their authentic selves: sometimes gnashing teeth and sometimes uttering terrible roars. Perhaps in acting out genuine fears through the safety net of a book, we can all put down our gargantuan worries about the fragility of today’s children. In a 1988 interview, Sendak remarked that “parents shouldn't assume children are made out of sugar candy and will break and collapse instantly. Kids don't. We do."

Indeed, dear Maurice Sendak, we parents do collapse. Today is such a day as I write these numbers under your name on the title page of every Sendak book we own: 1928-2012.

Author's note: Along with the 1964 Caldecott Medal for "Where the Wild Things Are," Sendak also won the Hans Christian Andersen Award (considered the Pulitzer Prize of children’s literature) and the National Book Award. If you decide to go on a Sendak binge and read one of his books a day, you will have enough to keep you busy throughout most of the upcoming summer. Don’t miss "Brundibur"!

Anita Voelker is an associate professor of education at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania.