Considering that we were all children once, adults understand children rather poorly, a fact which all too often comes to light in children’s literature. Common wisdom state that books for children must be safe and wholesome, and even–shudder!–educational. But we didn’t want safe and wholesome. We wanted books that were strange and savage and frightening.
In other words, we wanted Maurice Sendak.
Sendak never patronized us; he always spoke to the thoughts and emotions that we really had, rather than those we were supposed to have. No wonder Where the Wild Things Are was poorly received by adult critics; only in the wake of its huge success with children did it finally receive critical recognition. My copy of In the Night Kitchen, a book frequently banned from schools and libraries, felt delightfully naughty, and I read it with surreptitious enjoyment.
However, the real credit for his popularity has to go to his artwork. Sendak’s grotesque creatures, with the look of modern-day gargoyles, are unmistakably distinctive; his scenery has a mystical quality to it (no wonder he later designed opera sets). The desaturated palette goes against the standard children’s-book brightness to further the sense of unreality and distance.
I hope Sendak is now on an adventure as wonderful as the ones he created for us.
Image found here.