Hudson Maxim Elementary School, the early 80’s. My librarian was Mrs. Bernstein. She once told me she was 92 years old. I don’t know if that was true or not. I don’t know why she told me that either. But she was a woman who loved books and loved children. She took being an elementary school librarian as a gift, and she loved to read to us. To open our minds. To show us that books take us places our lives can’t in our young years, and that they can inspire us to go wherever we want as we get older.
She took my love of history and showed me books on Egyptian mythology, she showed me books about Cheetahs, she encouraged my creative but confused mind to go where it would. To make sense of the world through discovery. It is because of her that I know what a Caldecott Medal is. Named in honor of nineteenth century English Illustrator Randolph Caldecott, it is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children to the artist of the most distinguishing American picture book for children. To her, this was a big deal for a book.
One in particular…she showed me Where the Wild Things Are.
Where The Wild Things Are was read to us in library one day, and it stuck with me from that moment on. The story, the character of Max, the mom. The world he dreamed up. It made sense to me. Sometimes, I wanted to run away too, and I didn’t know why. I didn’t want to have a wild rumpus with monsters, but I wanted to connect with others who understood me. I didn’t feel understood then. I was a square peg in a round hole, and I had not yet discovered how marching to the beat of your own drum was a gift and not a flaw. Maurice Sendak wrote an anthem for me.
My mom bought it for me as a gift some time in my teens, knowing my love for the story, the words, and the illustrations that covered it’s horizontal pages. I would often flip through it for comfort or inspiration. I still do. Something in the story of Max resonated with me. Something about running away from a day in your life that seems too unfair, too out of bounds, too confusing to comprehend. Running away to a world in your dreams where things are as you think they should be. Where you control the day, the night, the outcome. Where your wild things run free.
When my son was born, I bought him a copy of his own. I read it to him. We made the noises. It was still magical for me. I had heard from a close friend that there was a movie in production. I pulled up the trailer, and heard the Arcade Fire song come in, and I burst into tears. It hit a deep chord with me. The visuals captured the feeling of the book. The music captured the feeling of the visuals. It was a perfect.
My son and I went and saw it in the theater. It was like taking the book and the emotions and blowing them up until they filled the whole world. Now a single mom with a little boy myself, I found myself in the film. When the end of the movie came…when the mom falls asleep giving Max his dinner, I burst into tears again, only this time with my son. We both cried. It struck us. The confusion of the world that makes us run away, but the comfort of home that anchors us and brings us back. My son is a deep old soul. He understands.
I bought it on DVD. We watched it once. We cried again.
(Maurice Sendak, "I refuse to lie to children.")
Today I read that Maurice Sendak had passed on. He has gone on to be king of his own Wild Things, to have many a wild rumpus, and to roar his wonderful inspiring roar. He brought magic to my life, and played a chord on an instrument buried deep in my heart as a little girl that still rings pure and perfectly in tune today. Mr. Sendak, you reached through those pages into the heart of a little girl. You inspired me to go into my dreams and find who I am, but reminded me how good it feels to know love. A short book of few words, beautiful pictures, and a message of truth, discovery, and home.