Maurice Sendak: “And he sailed off through night and day…”

“And he sailed off through night and day

and in and out of weeks

and almost over a year

to where the wild things are.”

(From “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak)

Beloved author, illustrator and literary trail blazer Maurice Sendak passed away May 8th at the age of 83.

Sendak did not create idealized children’s characters, and by doing so he is credited for changing children’s literature forever (for the better). The New York Times obituary says he:

“wrenched the picture book out of the safe, sanitized world of the nursery and plunged it into the dark, terrifying and hauntingly beautiful recesses of the human psyche.”

He is most famous for Where the Wild Things Are (1963), but I’d like to remember the book that launched his career: A Hole Is to Dig: A first book of first definitions (1952).

The cover of my well-loved first edition copy purchased for fifty cents at a school book sale.

Simple and sweet illustrations by Sendak are the perfect pairing for words by Ruth Krauss.

A Hole Is To Dig is a dictionary like no other: words are defined entirely in terms (and images) that reflect a child’s imagination. A hole is something you dig (and sit in). Toes are something you dance on. A face is so you can make faces.

Here, Sendak’s children jump in the mud, trip over rocks, and eat with their hands: They are entirely real, and likeable, because of it. And anyone who knows and loves a child well, knows and loves that Sendak got it right.

Happy sailing Mr. Sendak!

A wonderful interview with Sendak by National Public Radio (NPR), Sept. 20, 2011: Click here

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