Thursday, May 10, 2012

In Memoriam

As I'm sure everyone knows by now, author and illustrator Maurice Sendak passed away this week.  I loved his books and illustrations as a child, and I still have my copies carefully stored away to await my own children someday.  There's something about the topics Sendak covers and the way he illustrates them that has always sparked my (and countless others') imagination.  I think it's quite telling that even as an adult I can read one of his books and still get a sense of enjoyment out of them.

The Basics
Maurice Sendak was born in Brookyn, New York in 1928 to Jewish parents and decided on his career as an illustrator after seeing Disney's Fantasia.  In 1963, he published Where the Wild Things Are and rose to international fame.  He published In the Night Kitchen in 1970, which garnered criticism for its illustrations of a little boy in the nude and remains one of the most frequently banned books today.  In 1981 he published Outside Over There, and he has illustrated countless other books.

The Books
So, I'm not going to talk about Where the Wild Things Are. I think everyone is pretty familiar with that particular book, and it's a bit overplayed of late.  Also, of his three best known works, it's my least favorite  (I know, I'm weird).

Instead, let's start with In the Night Kitchen.  Despite the hype surrounding the book's "scandalous" content, I've always really liked the book. And if someone finds the milk bottle to be phallic, I think they have larger issues than the content of this book. Just saying.  I assure you the book did me no damage, and I grew up to be a relatively well-adjusted human being (though I'm sure there's a few people who could debate that, too).

But, I don't really want to talk about the controversy surrounding the book.  The book is about a boy named Mickey who, after going to bed, enters into surreal and dreamlike world of the Night Kitchen where he becomes involved in the process of baking the morning cake.  As a child I loved the idea of being transported someplace else after I went to bed.  I liked the how much bigger the surroundings were than the little boy; it appealed to my child's sense of size and proportion. And I especially liked the dough airplane; I mean, what kid doesn't want to fly their own airplane (barring severe cases of acrophobia, of course).  The book has cute illustrations and a fun story on a topic many children are curious about (bedtime! oh noes), which makes it a great bedtime story.

My favorite Sendak book, however, is Outside Over There, maybe because it appealed to a lot of what I felt as a big sister. In the book, Ida is left to care for her younger sister, for whom she harbors some of the usual sibling feelings of jealousy. While Ida isn't paying attention, goblins come and kidnap her little sister, and she embarks on a rescue journey. Along the way, she is distracted by the magic of her surroundings, but ultimately her love for her sister wins out and Ida rescues her.

This book's illustrations were always particularly fascinating to me, from the setting and the rosy faced, large eyed children to the hooded and robed goblins.  I liked the idea of crawling out my window and discovering a magical garden-like realm on the other side.  It's great for kids with siblings, because it introduces the idea that a) their feelings of resentment are okay and b) that despite those feelings, they can still care for their siblings.

  • A very good article about Maurice Sendak following his passing can be found over at the New York Times.



  1. Love that you did this post! Theses were two of my favorites to read to Casey and Emma, too. I had In the Night Kitchen memorized for a time. I also love his Little Bear books.

    1. I'm pretty sure you're the one who gave me my copy of Outside Over There. It's packed or I'd go check, but I think you wrote a message in it. I think I probably made you read it to me for that matter.


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