Tuesday, May 08, 2012

She Sure is {Wondering} In Times Like These...

I woke up to see my twittersphere aghast at the passing of our darling Mr. Sendak. My twitter feed is alight with children's authors galore, NPR listeners in droves, and elementary school librarians en masse, so when your idol dies, of course you hear about it, but... what do you say?

The Christmas of 1987 my gift haul was about as tall as I was. There were toys to play with and crafts to glue and a million things that needed my attention. However there were also a set of two delicious books entitled, "What do you do dear?" and "What do you say dear?"  I specifically remember laying across my parent's gigantic bed, basking in the sunlight while they read them to me and reread them to me and then PUHGLEEESE read them again! The thing is, I don't think they really minded that very much, because these books are absolutely brilliant. They made me double over with laughter. They made me scream with delight. How many memories can you say you specifically recall in sharp detail from when you were four?

These illustrations do that for me. They give me that moment back, when I am very small and in a HUMONGOUS queen sized bed and laughing with my family until I vaguely want to puke. 

Two years ago my mother and I had an epic difference of opinion that spanned three long months of stoney silence. My mom and I are best friends unless we wish we'd never met. One late night, missing her and desperately needing a loving conversation, but not enough to fight it out over the phone in the inevitable brawl before the calm, I crawled out of bed in my Brooklyn apartment, and grabbed this from the place of honor it holds on my bookshelf:

Little bear, that's me. Let's be honest, it's probably you too. When I turn its worn and grubby pages, I can hear my mother's voice. I can have the nicest conversation with her. We talk about trips to the moon and birthday soup and things I have always loved. How many permanent ties to the love you felt as a small child do you really have in this world?

Little bear was the beginning of Maurice Sendak's career, he and Else Holmemund Minarik created a beautiful collection of I Can Read books, way before anyone thought a child could ever be left behind. I know that as a child the words of course mattered, they always matter, but OH the PICTURES. I'd lay on my stomach on our 80s shag rug and study them for hours. You can just catch the humor in Mother Bear's eye as she cradles her little bear fresh from a moon landing. I know that in my life I've focused all the better on perfecting my ability as a line artist, because Maurice Sendak could say so much with a pen and two colors.

He has given me more than words can say, so let's move on, shall we? In times like these, at the passing of an idol, I ask....
I say the best we can do is remember him fondly, share him with the littles in our life, delight in the details or our lives and try to see the world as a child would want it shown to them. We can push ourselves to create things that will make a difference, but I think the greatest thing we can do to remember him is simply live our art. 

“Once a little boy sent me a charming card with a little drawing on it. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters — sometimes very hastily — but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, “Dear Jim: I loved your card.” Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, “Jim loved your card so much he ate it.” That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.” ― Maurice Sendak

and as As @sjaejones said so perfectly this morning in my twitter feed.
RIP Mr. Sendak, Let the Wild Rumpus Begin, wherever you are...


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