I just got word that beloved children's author and illustrator, Maurice Sendak, died this morning from complications of a stroke. I cannot stop crying. When I say "beloved" author, I am really referring to my own feelings. Maurice Sendak was, I'm sure, loved by many. But all I know is how I felt about him. And I loved him deeply, even though I never met the guy. That thought in itself is cause for hesitation. How, I ask myself, can I feel so grief stricken about a man I never met?
The only answer I can come up with is that I didn't have to know Maurice Sendak personally to love him. I loved him because of the impact he had on the lives of my daughter, my husband and me.
The images are coming full force: Lily and I on our favorite easy chair, snuggled in close, reading Where the Wild Things Are. Bob and Lily laughing as he reads her a bedtime story, In the Night Kitchen. The images remind me that we read Maurice Sendak's books to Lily when she was very young, but also, continued to read them for many years. They had a sort of ageless quality and they made a lasting impact.
The power of reading. The joy of reading. The delight in rebelliousness--on the page. The beauty of illustrations, even illustrations of hairy, curmudgeonly monsters. The simplicity of a story about a boy and wild things or a kid named Mickey and what happens in the "night kitchen."
My husband and I not only read Maurice Sendak's books to our daughter, but we also talked about them. We told her Sendak based his illustrations of the wild things on some of his old relatives who seemed scary when he was a kid. Laughing, we thought of our own "scary" relatives and understood exactly where Sendak was coming from. We talked about the controversy of Sendak's illustrations of Mickey, swirling into a bottle of milk, a glimpse of his little boy penis showing--and how that particular illustration caused a ban of In the Night Kitchen
in many places.
I can picture Lily and I singing Chicken Soup with Rice, Then Came Johnny and all the songs Carly Simon sang based on the books, which we poured over while we sang, basking in the illustrations.
Reading about his life, we tried to understand Maurice Sendak's pain (he lost relatives in the Holocaust and spent many of his childhood years in a sick bed.) And we related his pain, but also his unique sense of humor and individuality, to his art. And we loved him for his humanity.
I feel pain trying to comprehend that Maurice Sendak is gone. But, the truth is, he will always be close. Particularly in my book store. I have the joy of knowing that his books are where they ought to be--in the children's room in East Line Books where I work everyday. All I have to do is pick one up and open it.