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The Wild Thing in Each of Us
I don't know how the rumor got started that children are sweet and innocent, but it was probably by someone who had very little contact with actual children. Kids are raw. Kids are wild. And kids know that the world is scary, they just don't know how exactly. Maurice Sendak, who died on May 8th at the age of 83, knew this. As he told The Atlantic last September, kids "are immensely courageous. And they sacrifice a lot. And they try to play mute and dumb because--well, it's kind of the expectation of their parents." This sense of respecting children and their capacity for the mysteries of life are why his books, from Where The Wild Things Are to In the Night Kitchen to his last, Bumble-Ardy, had such energy and darkness in them. And it's why kids love them.
The great children's literature blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast has a lovely tribute to Sendak: an image of one his more moving pages. The blog also quotes Sendak, talking about death: “you come on a wisp of air and you go on a wisp of air.” Spoken like someone who has come to terms with the scariness of life.
So, yes, for terrifying our children, for acknowledging the wildness in them, and for giving grownups a way to tell our little wild things, "I have to try to civilize you, because that's my job, but don't worry, I get it" -- Maurice Sendak, you grouchy, irascible soul, we thank you.
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