Thank You Maurice Sendak
Dear Mr. Sendak,
As a 6-year old, I dreamed of being able to find a big enough milk bottle for me to dive in at night so I could help Laurel and Hardy bakers bake bread in the morning. When you wrote In the Night Kitchen you were already a grown-up so you don’t know, you couldn’t know, how much a 6-year old girl wanted to live in your book’s pages. At my grown-up age I don’t fantasize anymore on milk bottle dives but as that little girl, it truly felt like the ultimate experience. Playing in the garden with my brothers, shooting arrows that we made out of mimosa tree branches, sliding down a big dirt dump behind our house , diving for sea stars in the ocean after school – all of these seemed fine but they were only everyday life. Diving in a milk bottle, now that seemed worth living for.
Needless to say, the milk bottles in our refrigerator weren’t big enough and they were not even the right shape or made out of clear glass so forget it, I never completed that Mickey milk dream. Still at bedtime, I hoped I would wake up and float away from my bedroom to fashion a plane out of bread dough (still rising, so wild) and fly high into the night sky of slumberland. That never happened either and the only times I floated away from my bedroom at night, it was to find the hallway’s dim light leading to the bathroom where nothing magical ever happened.
I grew up and In the Night Kitchen was boxed with my other childhood books, disappearing in the darkness of a cupboard somewhere in our house. It was boxed with my copy of the adorably small Nutshell Library, a gift from my aunt in Australia. In the Night Kitchen made its way to the back of my brain and lingered there until our first daughter was born and I headed to a bookstore to buy baby books for her. Flamboyantly new with a Caldecott medal on the cover art, there was your book, not meant for babies at all. Memories resurfaced in major tsunamis in my head and I bought this shining new book. It’s for later, I thought. I had no clue where the box of my childhood books was so it was safer to have my own. Plus, this one was in English and my childhood version was in French.
I waited patient years to read the book to my girls. I didn’t want it to be chewed religiously or thrown out the window or used as a hammer. Beyond anything, I wanted the words to mean something to their delicate ears, I wanted the words to reach out to their imagination. I even bought glass bottles that were the same shape as your book’s and displayed them in our refrigerator. Silly I know, they weren’t child-size but where do you find a milk bottle swimming pool anyway?
The day came when we read the book at bedtime. Have you ever heard this audio-version of the book interpreted by Peter Schikele? To me it reflects the 1930s mood of the book. ”Quiet down there!” yelled Mickey, and then he floated away and my girls were captivated. The little boy could fly, he could fly out of his bedroom and have adventures at night without his parents. Wow. “Stir it! Scrape it! Make it! Bake it!” And the best part is, Mickey tucked himself back to bed and thanks to him, kids can have warm bread in the morn’. A true hero. What a story, what a book. I don’t know if my girls ever considered taking a plunge in our milk bottles. I should ask.
Whatever the case, thank you for writing it. Thank you for writing Where the Wild Things Are and letting Max sail in and out of days to lead the charge of the wild rumpus. Thank you for writing Chicken Soup with Rice which was my first incursion in a book of months. Thank you for bringing danger and wild things to kids who need a break from sheltered everyday lives. We are all wild things, to some extent.
This morning I listened to your Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross in December 2011. Tears welled up in my eyes at the end. Your words are wise and I understand now that the words in your books are the natural extension of the words in your life. I will quote your last words of advice to Terry Gross for they show how much you loved life.
Live your life, live your life, live your life.
Rest in peace, Wild Thing.