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