Normally when we write this post it's to talk about a song that we've been listening to, and what it means to us. Tonight I'm going to use it as an excuse to write about Maurice Sendak. I'll be brief.
When most people think of Sendak they think of Where the Wild Things Are, and they're right to. It's brilliant and enduring and true and good. It's honest about childhood in a way that only a world full of fear and self-realization can be. We've all been Max at one point or another.
When I think of Sendak, though, I think of In the Night Kitchen. If you're not familiar, the basic structure is similar to Wild Things: Young boy gets transported to fantastical world, overcomes challenges, heads back home. Except Mickey doesn't run away like Max does; he floats involuntarily. Instead of monsters he finds three bakers (all of whom look like Oliver Hardy) whose batter he lands in. He avoids death-by-oven by building an airplane out of bread: a triumph of ingenuity that's a far cry from Max's ferocity. He even helps the bakers—who had been ready to cook him alive—on his way back to safety.
Growing up, I related to Mickey more than I ever did to Max. Night Kitchen said look, yes. The world can crush you without even meaning to. Not all danger comes from malevolence, and not all fears can be overcome by yelling louder than the monster next to you. The best we can do is laugh, and think, and help. I'm 31 years old now. That's still the best I can do.
Here's the smartest thing I've ever read about reading, from Alan Bennett:
The best moments in reading are when you come across something—a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things—which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.
Maurice Sendak's was the first hand I ever took. And he will be for my children, and for theirs, and for theirs.