Farewell, Maurice Sendak

When I worked as a substitute teacher, I kept two bags of can’t-lose teaching stuff  by the door: one for little kids and another for big kids.  One day I was called to teach a first grade class, so I grabbed up my little kids bag.  But when I got to the school, I was sent to a sixth grade class instead.

Great.  Just great. Obviously bunny worksheets were not going to cut it.  And the book I brought to read was Maurice Sendak’s picture book, Where the Wild Things Are.

As I scrambled to collect myself, a kid named Jason–who was already sprouting the shadow of a moustache–pulled the book out of my bag and exclaimed, “Oh!  Oh! I love this book!”  The whole class joined in and insisted I read it to them.  “And be sure to show us the pictures,” Jason added.

I must admit, as a writer, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with books that provoke so faithful a following.  While I do savor the imaginative story and marvel over the way the words wind together in so unforgettable a way, a bit of envy does creeps in.  If only those words were mine! I think.  And those wonderful pictures… If only I had been the one to paint them.  

Together those sixth graders and I “gnashed our terrible teeth and rolled our terrible eyes and showed our terrible claws” as we joined Max as the “wild rumpus began.”

I am no Maurice Sendak.  I know that.  I’ve never written a best-loved classic. I’ve not crafted a children’s picture book that moves an adolescent tough boy to unashamedly announce to the class, “I have a wolf suit, but it doesn’t fit me anymore.” Maybe I will someday, but I doubt it.

We will miss you, Maurice Sendak, little kids and big kids and grown up kids, too.  You did good.

 “I have a sadness shield that keeps out all the sadness, and it’s big enough for all of us.” 

Max, in Where the Wild Things Are



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6 responses to “Farewell, Maurice Sendak

  1. Thanks, BJ. Amazing the folks who intersect our lives, isn’t it?

  2. Jeanette

    Both my boys had Where the Wild Things Are memorized. As a child, I thought the story was creepy. Then I got re-introduced to it while teaching preschool and saw how the kids loved. Before I knew it, I was buying it for Christian and it became part of our nightly bedtime ritual.

    BTW, I worked as a substitute teacher too, in grades K-12. It never occurred to me to keep a bag of stuff by the door. What a great idea! That might have come in handy on the many days when teachers left we with enough assignments to cover half the school day.

  3. Oh, yes, I remember those days. Which is precisely why I came with my bag. 🙂

  4. One of my worst substitute teaching experiences was in a first grade where the lesson plan for the day consisted of, “continue farm unit.” That was it. Oh, and another teacher told me to tie one boy into his chair with a handy rope that was kept for that purpose. Yikes!

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