“The night Max wore his wolf suit…
And made mischief of one kind..
…and another. . . ”
So begins one of my favorite books of all time. And the world is a little less bright today, as the monstrous imagination of Maurice Sendak that brought us Where the Wild Things Are, In the Night Kitchen, and Pierre (A Cautionary Tale) has passed away from complications of a stroke.
Sendak was also perhaps even more accomplished as an artist and animator than as a writer. He did the art for the Caldecott-winning Little Bear series and literally hundreds of other books. In 1975 he produced an animated show called Really Rosie featuring Carole King as the titular character singing animated versions of Sendak’s Alligators All Around, Chicken Soup with Rice, One Was Johnny, and Pierre (which respectively taught the alphabet, the months, counting, and to care). This was a staple in the VHS rotation when I was younger, as it was also paired with animated versions of Wild Things and Night Kitchen.
As I got older I became more impressed with Sendak. Not only because Wild Things really stuck with me, but because of his work on issues like censorship. In the Night Kitchen famously has the main little boy dancing around naked for portions of the book, and it finds itself consistently on the list of banned books in public libraries because of it. It bothered me even then that if you were to ban the book because of childhood nudity, that somehow made it wrong and tawdry-- in fact, it was the censorship that attempted to sexualize the images.
Just a couple of months ago, Stephen Colbert sat down with Sendak and asked him some questions along these lines, along with many others. There is a second part here, since this interview was just too epic to be contained in one piece. In some ways this is like the Charlie Rose or David Frost interview of Sendak. And just last week Colbert again checked Sendak, calling his new children’s book “Sendak-approved.” Please go watch it, along with Colbert reading Bumble-Ardy here.
Sendak was also noted for being gay, living with his partner for over 50 years. I wonder how many red-state Americans reading to their kid that the “moral of Pierre is care!” are ignorant of this fact. Or perhaps that explains the irrational fear of Night Kitchen.
Regardless, the man has left an indelible mark on our culture and society. May you rest in peace and be reunited with your partner Eugene.
And I leave you with his parting words about the future of publishing and e-books, as said to Colbert: “F@#$ them is what I say, I hate those e-books. They can not be the future… they may well be… I will be dead, I won’t give a s#!%!”
Indeed, sir. You will be missed.