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PORTSIDE  May 2012, Week 3

PORTSIDE May 2012, Week 3

Subject:

Maurice Sendak, Author Who Scared Generations of Kids

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Date:

Fri, 18 May 2012 21:02:51 -0400

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Parts/Attachments

text/plain (126 lines)

Maurice Sendak, Author Who Scared Generations of Kids

An Appreciation

By Laurel Snyder
Published May 09, 2012, issue of May 18, 2012.
The Forward
http://forward.com/articles/155952/maurice-sendak-author-who-scared-generations-of-ki/

Maurice Sendak's untethered landscapes and crazy
creatures set a high bar for my own games of make-
believe. As a child, I wanted to crawl "Outside Over
There." I longed for a "Night Kitchen" of my own. And I
was sure that I knew exactly how I'd dance at a "Wild
Things" style Rumpus. But as a parent, there's something
I love even more than Sendak's imagination. I love his
honesty.

Adults like to think that children live in a happy place
- free from care and worry. We want to protect our kids,
to imagine them safe and sound. We speak in hushed tones
when we fight with our spouses, and turn off the radio
when a news story gets gory. We don't want to upset our
kids. But this is our tale, our make-believe. In fact,
children live in a confusing and sometimes scary world,
and of course they know it.

Maurice Sendak, who died May 8 at age 83, knew it, too,
and even in his most whimsical moments, he allowed his
characters and his readers a wide range of experience
and emotion. However otherworldly his stories got, they
were always rooted in honest depictions of the real
world. His focus was often the snarls on the inside as
well as the outside of his characters.

Decades later, we read Sendak's books as classics. We
accept them as sweet and charming. But when they came
out they were shocking, and we might do well to reread
them, and think about that.

Pierre doesn't care. Ida - slipping off to "Outside Over
There" - resents her baby sister, as most older siblings
do. Max makes mischief in his wolf suit, and when the
world gnashes its terrible teeth, he gnashes back.
Nowhere does a parent hold a child's hand. Nowhere does
a parent follow closely behind. Sendak's creations are
at times petulant, lonely, homesick and angry. They get
sad. They shout. They worry. A lot like regular kids.

Then, by the end of each story, the characters are
always smarter, better off because of the danger,
because of the unpleasant experiences and the
frustrations. This is, of course, how actual kids learn
actual things. The bowl of porridge - "still hot," as it
is in "Wild Things"- is always more comforting after the
frightening adventure, isn't it?

During a recent appearance on "The Colbert Report,"
Sendak told Stephen Colbert, "I don't write for
children. I write. And somebody says, that's for
children."

Now, I'm not certain that I believe Sendak's soundbite.
I'm pretty sure he knew for whom he was writing. But I
also think that the essence of the statement is true -
because I think that Sendak expected children to live in
the same world as the rest of us.

Much has been made of Sendak's Jewish background, and
the fact that many of his family members died in
concentration camps. "The Holocaust has run like a river
of blood through all my books," he once said. And I
can't help thinking about that now, as I reflect on how
much the world has changed since Maurice Sendak started
out, as I consider the confusion and fear that must have
filled Sendak's youth, and contrast it against the
parenting culture of America today - in which we work so
hard to separate our kids from the hardships of the
larger world. Sendak expected children to suffer, as
they do. And survive, as they do. I think there's
something we can all learn from that.

But there's another side to this story too, a second
lesson: If Sendak was writing for all of us, and if
Sendak saw children as people, then he also saw the rest
of us - the grownups - as children: petulant and worried
and jealous, scared and cranky, too. But also capable of
great imagination, of high adventure. Just as children
must experience suffering in order to survive in this
world, adults must experience adventure in order to make
the most of it.

Sendak's legacy is one of gifts and challenges: The
challenge to be honest with ourselves always, to see our
children as people and to trust them to survive, but
also the challenge to find magic in the world, or to
make it for ourselves.

I want to believe there is a boat waiting for me
somewhere, that will take me "over a year and in and out
of weeks and through a day and into the night" of my
very own story.

Laurel Snyder is the author of children's books,
including "Baxter, The Pig Who Wanted To Be Kosher" and
"Laila Tov, Good Night." Contact her at
[log in to unmask]

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