Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Maurice Sendak Beloved Children's Illustrator and Author Dies

Maurice Sendak, acclaimed children’s book illustrator and author, died today a few weeks shy of his 84th birthday. His most famous book Where the Wild Things Are, a Caldecott Medal winner, is also beloved to psychoanalysts because it lends itself beautifully to metaphors about the unconscious life and about therapy. We pledge to open ourselves to the scary and the wild in our patients and in our selves, and to go with them to places where others are not allowed or fear to tread. His illustrations of monsters are personal to Sendak (not griffins or gorillas) derived from his childhood experiences with all his Jewish relatives with “big warts and hairs growing out of their noses,” adults who “treated them in silly fashion” as kids constrained in best clothes awaiting dinner and having to “listen to their tedious conversation” as well as having been told he and his siblings had gotten big or fat and they would “eat us up.” The monsters tell Max: Please don’t go, we’ll eat you up, we love you so. [Sendak lamented that book signings unwittingly turned him into a strange monster to the children shoved at him to autograph (write in their books, an action forbidden to them) and whom they imagined wanted to take, keep, as well as defile their favorite book. Sendak said, “A child was a creature without power, …pocket money or escape routes of any kind.” He detested Peter Pan because he could not conceive that any child would want to remain a child, powerless. He thought “all kids would like to have control” And Max, the king of all wild things, was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all. Max not afraid of the montsters and so child readers likewise were not afraid. Sendak’s own fears included the vacuum cleaner and The Invisible Man, a movie which he credited for his lifelong insomnia. He found “terrifying” the unraveled bandages (of head) exposing nothing there. Big events in his childhood were “being sick” and “being expected to die” (discussed in front of children by his parents) which “pervaded my soul apparently.” In the days before antibiotics and vaccines, Sendak spent lot of time, sick, in bed with childhood illnesses. When sick, before TV, Sendak spent a lot of time looking out windows, happy memories which appeared in his books. His father left Eastern Europe before the Holocaust but all father’s relatives perished there and father grief stricken all Sendak’s life. In the Night Kitchen was banned in some libraries across the USA because its protagonist Mickey appears nude. Sendak said of this that he was “not out to cause a scandal”… “I assumed everyone knew little boys had that.” Outside Over There is about sibling rivalry and responsibility; Ida is left to babysit her baby sister, who is kidnapped by goblins, and Ida must come to terms with her ambivalent feelings as she goes on a magical adventure to rescue her sister. Among other awards, Sendak also received a Newbery Award for his illustration of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s children’s story Zlateh the Goat. Sendak’s family moved a lot due to money problems growing up in Brooklyn. He also wrote a book about homelessness We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy: Two Nursery Rhymes with Pictures.

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