(crossposted to Worcester Poets Asylum)

Sad news this morning from the New York Times (obit below the fold). Beloved poet and children’s author, Maurice Sendak has passed away.

Maurice Sendak has always held a very special place for me. One of my earliest memories from childhood is reading Chicken Soup With Rice in kindergarten – I distinctly remember the librarian at the Ethel McKnight School in East Windsor, NJ, holding the oversized book open for us to all see the pictures as we crowded in to hear her tell the story. I remember being read to when I was small enough to still fit on a lap, and the bright pages of Where The Wild Things Are taking up more space than the room possibly could hold.

And when my own son was born, we read every Sendak book we could find together. We started reading together before he was even old enough to understand that books were more than just delightful on the gums. When he was a couple years old, Where The Wild Things Are*, In The Night Kitchen and Outside Over There became our very favorites.

Just this weekend, I picked up a copy of Bumble-Ardy for my nieces, barely daring to wonder to myself if this would be his last book. In an NPR interview last year, he just sounded so sad – he cried through the interview with Terri Gross (Fresh Air, September 20, 2011), lamenting the passing of his partner of fifty years, Eugene Glynn, as well as other friends whom he had outlived. He said, “I cry a lot because I miss people. They die and I can’t stop them. They leave me and I love them more,” and I started crying too, there in the car, on I-190, weeping and driving, and hearing how he sounded so lonesome.

Oh, Maurice – thank you for your words, for your pictures, for these beautiful pieces of childhood and parenthood that you gave us. I’ll miss you. The wild rumpus will forever be changed by your passing.

Maurice Sendak, Author of Splendid Nightmares, Dies at 83

Maurice Sendak, widely considered the most important children’s book artist of the 20th century, who wrenched the picture book out of the safe, sanitized world of the nursery and plunged it into the dark, terrifying and hauntingly beautiful recesses of the human psyche, died on Tuesday in Danbury, Conn. He was 83 and lived in Ridgefield, Conn.

The cause was complications from a recent stroke, said Michael di Capua, his longtime editor.

Roundly praised, intermittently censored and occasionally eaten, Mr. Sendak’s books were essential ingredients of childhood for the generation born after 1960 or thereabouts, and in turn for their children. He was known in particular for more than a dozen picture books he wrote and illustrated himself, most famously “Where the Wild Things Are,” which was simultaneously genre-breaking and career-making when it was published by Harper & Row in 1963.

Among the other titles he wrote and illustrated, all from Harper & Row, are “In the Night Kitchen” (1970) and “Outside Over There” (1981), which together with “Where the Wild Things Are” form a trilogy; “The Sign on Rosie’s Door” (1960); “Higglety Pigglety Pop!” (1967); and “The Nutshell Library” (1962), a boxed set of four tiny volumes comprising “Alligators All Around,” “Chicken Soup With Rice,” “One Was Johnny” and “Pierre.”

In September, a new picture book by Mr. Sendak, “Bumble-Ardy” — the first in 30 years for which he produced both text and illustrations — was issued by HarperCollins Publishers. The book, which spent five weeks on the New York Times children’s best-seller list, tells the not-altogether-lighthearted story of an orphaned pig (his parents are eaten) who gives himself a riotous birthday party.

Read the rest of the article here.

Recently, Mr. Sendak did a couple of interviews with Stepen Colbert – they’re super funny. You can see them here and here.

Outside Over There**
When Papa was away at sea, and Mama in the arbor, Ida played her wonder horn to rock the baby still – but never watched.

So the goblins came. They pushed their way in and pulled baby out, leaving another all made of ice. Poor, Ida never knowing, hugged the changeling and she murmured: “How I love you.” The ice thing only dripped and stared, and Ida knew goblins had been there. “They stole my sister away!” she cried, “To be a nasty goblin’s bride!”

Now Ida in a hurry snatched her Mama’s yellow rain cloak, tucked her horn safe in a pocket, and made a serious mistake. She climbed backwards out her window into outside over there. Foolish Ida never looking, whirling by the robber caves, heard at last from off the sea her Sailor Papa’s song: “If Ida backwards in the rain would only turn around again and catch those goblins with a tune she’d spoil their kidnap honeymoon!”

So Ida tumbled right side round and found herself smack in the middle of a wedding. Oh how those goblins hollered and kicked, just babies like her sister! “What a hubbub,” said Ida sly, and she charmed them with a captivating tune.

The goblins, all against their will, danced slowly first, then faster until they couldn’t breath. “Terrible Ida,” the goblins said, “we’re dancing sick and must to bed.” But Ida played a frenzied jug, a hornpipe that makes sailors wild beneath the ocean moon. Those goblins pranced so fierce, so fast, they quick churned into a dancing stream. Except for one who lay cozy in an eggshell, crooning and clapping as a baby should. And that was Ida’s sister.

Now Ida glad hugged baby tight. She followed the stream that curled like a path along the broad meadow, and up the ring round hill to her mama in the arbour, with a letter from Papa saying, “I’ll be home one day. And my brave, bright little Ida must watch the baby and her mama for Papa, who loves her always.” Which is just what Ida did.


*Might I just say – reading Where The Wild Things Are with my son after many years of not looking at it was astounding. Also, I saw Mickey chasing the dog with the fork, and had a very different take on it than I did when I was little – it was little terrifying. But not as terrifying as when it was depicted in the Spike Jonze movie adaptation. (For the record, I start crying at that scene and continue to cry through the entire rest of the movie.)
**I’ve approximated the stanza breaks – I don’t have the book around me right now for reference. I’m pretty sure they’re in couplets in the book, as well.