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Kay Strom

Farewell, Maurice Sendak

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 creep 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


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