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Pickle Me This

May 8, 2012

On Maurice Sendak

The other day I was talking about friends of ours and said, “They didn’t have a party when he turned one,” to which Harriet responded, “His immediately family frowned on fun.” Which isn’t technically true, but is a testament to how our favourite books reside so centrally in our consciousnesses, even after the books are closed,that she could so reference Maurice Sendak’s Bumble Ardy off the cuff.

Maurice Sendak died today at the age of 82. I didn’t read a lot of him when I was little, apart from Where the Wild Things Are, but I didn’t even read that one enough to properly probe its depths. Truth be told, I still don’t properly get Maurice Sendak, which sometimes annoys me, and certainly makes me uncomfortable, but it’s also the reason why his work fascinates me so much. His stories are either everything or nothing, and depending upon what mood I’m in, my perspective changes all the time.

When I first read Outside Over There though, I started to get a sense of how much is going on in his work underneath the surface, even if the action itself is not altogether accessible to me. That book is so weird, and I’ve read it a million times, and I still don’t really understand it, but I suspect that the text is as detailed and full of allusions as the illustrations are. It’s a mystery that I’ll be unravelling forever. It’s much easier to out-and-out love The Night Kitchen, though in some ways that book is even weirder, but I love the almost rhymes and the box cityscape. I want to always have cake in the morning too. Cock a doodle doo. And then yes, Wild Things, the most graspable of the three and I love its run-on sentences, and I love the wild rumpus just like everyone. I also love the line, “Please don’t go. We’ll eat you up. We love you so.” Life is complicated.

More straightforward is how much we love Maurice Sendak’s illustrations– Little Bear is so absolutely wonderful. I also really love Chicken Soup With Rice, which dares to boil a pot at the bottom of the sea. And his latest book, Bumble Ardy, which we bought last Fall and whose weirdness Harriet has never even raised an eyebrow at yet. Because she’s still little enough to take the world as she finds it, and how much richer is she (and all of us) for Maurice Sendak’s work being in it.

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