One of the nice things about the online social network stuff is that sometimes, when a piece of news occurs, I can peek into the reactions of my acquaintances (and their acquaintances, and sometimes of perfect strangers) and see how they overlap with mine. A couple of days ago, I was reading posts and status updates reacting to the news that Maurice Sendak has died.
It seems that Where the Wild Things Are is the touchstone book for a generation and a half or so, and it has my favorite book in the whole wide world for a couple of years, now. It’s a wonderful, wonderful work, and people think Maurice Sendak as the man who wrote Wild Things, that’s wonderful. But YHB has written about the book before, so I thought I would mention a few others of his that have touched me.
It doesn’t have quite the heft of Wild Things, but for both visuals and story, I think In the Night Kitchen is a better book—it wasn’t until I had read and reread Wild Things a million times that it took first place in my personal ranking. Back in 2004, when my Perfect Non-Reader was not yet five, I said that Night Kitchen is the best children’s book ever, and it is a remarkable work in every way. Also, the Bakers (who bake ’til the dawn so that we can have cake in the morn) are at the pinnacle of picture book characters. It is sometimes considered as part of a trilogy with Wild Things and Outside Over There; three books that feature the child protagonist on a fantastical journey, in extraordinary danger, and then returned home. Of course, description fits a lot of books, so I have never been satisfied with the idea of the three as a trilogy. They are very different books, with very different themes, both visually and spiritually. Night Kitchen is the most light-hearted, possibly the most light-hearted of all his books (hmm, not true, must go back to that) and the visuals and the rhythm imbue it with a swing that is utterly unlike the other two. Which is to say: I have never cried while reading Night Kitchen.
I didn’t see any mentions of the illustrated nursery rhymes. I know some people who are very fond of Higgledy Piggledy Pop, which has (if I remember correctly) the illustrated rhyme at the end. My favorite of those is We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy, a truly remarkable book, very serious and powerful, and I think the most underrated (or perhaps underloved) of his books. I didn’t like Hector Protector and As I Went Over the Water as much, nor what I vaguely remember as a book of Mother Goose rhymes. But it seems like not so many people have seen All in the Dumps, and it’s very much worth seeking out.
What did turn up in comments was the Nutshell collection and its adaptation as Really, Rosie; the books/songs are Alligators All Around, Pierre, One Was Johnny, and the book that was YHB’s favorite in 1973, Chicken Soup with Rice. These are wonderful little books, and while they aren’t Great Big Books, they are wonderful little books, and it’s a Good Thing to have some wonderful little books around the house. Also, both Chicken Soup and Alligators are light-hearted books; Maurice Sendak gets (well-deserved) credit for children’s books that don’t necessarily need to be light-hearted, but then sometimes light-hearted is what you looking for.
Another thing that turned up among my friends’ memories that didn’t turn up so much in the articles and obituaries were the illustrations for books that Mr. Sendak didn’t write. The Little Bear series, of course, is a big deal for a lot of people, and the instantly recognizable illustrations are a big part of that. There are dozens of books with Sendak illustrations, and often the illustrations are a big part of the emotional attachment, either from reading as a kid or from reading aloud to kids. No Fighting, No Biting and What Do You Say, Dear fall into this category for me, and although there aren’t as many illustrations, I think that I was predisposed to fall for The Wheel on the School because those illustrations were Mr. Sendak’s.
It’s not wrong for the obituaries to highlight Wild Thing, which is an Important Book and so on and so forth, but it’s really nice for me, as a fan of his work, to see the idiosyncratic loves people had for some of the other stuff. I don’t really get Social Networks, but that’s one cool thing that wouldn’t happen without them. For instance, it took me three days to write up a blog note about it, while I jotted off a status update referencing Night Kitchen in thirty seconds, to have it take its place among the other such lines—it’s the accumulation of them that made me cry.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,