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A Year of Books
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The original King of the Wild Things

20th May 2012 - Katy Maydon


Katy Maydon from our Westfield Straford East branch recalls her own childhood enjoyment of the late Maurice Sendak's classic Where the Wild Things Are and celebrates the achievements of an author who never grew up.


Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice SendakNot too late on in life it seems, comes a time where people who helped shape your childhood begin to die. I remember vividly when Janet Ahlberg died, but I was still only five, young, unable to understand that authors and illustrators existed in the real world and not just in the literary ether. At the beginning of last year Dick King-Smith died and now every time I shelve or tidy one of Sophie's Adventures, it is with a little more sadness than with the other, surrounding titles.


And now, yet another name that shaped not only my, but so many childhood's has died. Maurice Sendak, at the age of 83, died on Tuesday 8th May. I was no less than shocked when I heard of his death. Although he was old, he wasn't frail; I had others pinned to becomes losses before Sendak.


Best known for the weird and wonderful Where the Wild Things Are, Sendak specialised in the strange, the shocking, the uncomfortable and the honest. The book depicts a young boy, by the name of Max, who, after causing mischief before bed, becomes King of the Wild Things. His bedroom transforms into a forest and he sails off to the land of the Wild things for days, months and years. Soon Max tires of living with the Wild Things and sails home, to find his dinner waiting for him, still hot. Even the connotations of this simple ending are vast - was it a dream or did time just move differently for Max, as it did for the children who travelled to Narnia through a wardrobe? Where the Wild Things Are is known and loved by children and adults globally and has been adapted into short and feature length films, most notably in 2009.


Other works by Sendak have also filtered into our lives, one way or another. In the Night Kitchen, Sendak's dream-sequence picture book caused controversy, especially in the United States, for featuring a small boy in the nude. Outside, Over There, the story of a young girl who is charged with looking after her baby sister and subsequently must save her from goblins, was the influence for the 1980s film Labyrinth. Sendak's most recent book, the strange and a little sinister Bumble-Ardy, is the story of a boy (well, a pig, actually) who didn't get a birthday party until he was nine, was based on a clip from a Sesame Street segment that Sendak wrote with Jim Henson.


The most wonderful thing about Sendak's work is the lack of 'fluff.' There is nothing sweet or cuddly about Sendak's work. Not unlike Roald Dahl, Sendak never set out to please children, or in fact to write children's books, but simply to write and illustrate books, their imaginations taking them into the world of children. Without the works of great authors like Sendak, Roald Dahl, Lewis Carroll and Neil Gaiman, children would spend their childhoods being coddled. I have no doubt that Sendak will live on though his words and pictures, through the strange and weird; through all the children who grew up with Sendak's Wild Things and those of us, like Sendak, who never grew up at all.



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