Questions I Will Never Get To Ask Maurice Sendak

I was sorry to hear that we lost a great artist and writer this week. Maurice Sendak, author of the iconic Where The Wild Things Are, has passed away. As an aspiring children’s book author, I admire Sendak’s artistry, his imagination, and his enduring contribution to the literary lives of children.

Candidly, I am also mad at myself for not reaching out to Sendak before it was too late. One of the items on my to-do list was to contact Sendak requesting an answer to a burning question. (“Call Sendak With Question” was just under “get a job,” “buy a bra that fits,” and “learn to love Harry Potter books.”).

So, I am asking y’all, my proxies for the beloved Sendak:

What the hell is the book, In The Night Kitchen, about?

Sadie loves this book and I vascillate. Sometimes, I think it’s naughty– I mean, what’s with Mickey being naked in the batter? And the sexual imagery: “But right in the middle of the steaming and the making and the smelling and the baking Mickey poked through…” I always wonder if the book is better suited to adolescent boys when I read, “He kneaded and punched it and pounded and pulled.” I wanted to ask Sendak if this was a manual for self-pleasure.

I am almost ok with the seedy under tones of this story, because my kids haven’t caught on, and frankly, I don’t get out much.

Sometimes I think maybe it’s just a whimsical story about three rotund bakers and a spirited little boy. It’s not Mickey’s fault my mind is in the gutter.

But in the wake of Sendak’s death, I mourn the man and the answers I will never get. I guess the good news is there’s one less item on my to-do list.

Can you ease my pain and give me the scoop on this book?

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10 thoughts on “Questions I Will Never Get To Ask Maurice Sendak

  1. I loved IN THE NIGHT KITCHEN as a kid, and I think Sendak intended it to be free and open when it comes to body stuff, since that’s the way kids approach it. The tendency towards sexualization and awkwardness is one of those things we pick up as adults. I don’t think he watered down the world for kids, but I do think he saw a lot of the world as they see it. But when you’re a kid it’s not that weird to be running around in your backyard kiddie pool with the neighborhood kids and have somebody’s naked bum on display. (Doesn’t everyone have one of those pictures hiding in an old album somewhere?)

    I love the surrealism, just how weirdly dream-like it is. My son isn’t old enough for it yet, and I’m sure it may be weirdly creepy to read it to him as an adult, but I’m hoping I can get in touch with my inner kid and be okay with the idea of a naked boy running through a giant kitchen.

    • You know what– I think you’re right. My daughter tends to like being in the buff and it’s not a big deal. (she’s 2). The surreal quality is magical. I love how it begins and ends with Mickey in bed with this fantastical story in between.

      And it’s helpful to remember that making things sexual is what adults do. Not kids.

  2. Can you believe I’ve never even heard of this book? What rock have I been living under? We are certainly no stranger to dark and adult filled children’s activities. My son’s favorite movie is Coraline (I’m not kidding).

  3. My son has hundreds of books, but not this one, so I’m of little help in answering your question. He did talk about the book in an NPR interview, but more about why the chefs looked like Nazis (’cause what’s a good children’s book without Nazis?). I read this quote from an interview and thought moms would appreciate it:

    “A little boy… sent me a charming card with a little drawing. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters — sometimes very hastily — but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, “Dear Jim: I loved your card.” Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, “Jim loved your card so much he ate it.” That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.”

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