The Wild Rumpus Ends

The Wild Rumpus Ends.

Author Maurice Sendak died on Tuesday, May 8th from complications from a stroke.

I could talk about how the Holocaust affected his young life. I could talk about the fact that he was gay. I could talk about his terrible illness that confined him to his bed when he was young. I could talk about his influences. I could talk about how he changed picture books for kids.  I could talk about all these things that anyone can find on Google or Yahoo or MSNBC. If those are the things you want, let me suggest you go to those sites. I want to talk about my relationship with Maurice Sendak.

How can I describe a lifelong relationship with a man I have never met, never spoken to and never seen in person? Granted this relationship was one way, he never knew about me or who I was. This relationship was one sided. He gave and I took. But that is what authors do. They leave words for the reader, and get nothing back from them. It seems a lonely way to communicate.

I met Maurice Sendak when I was a kid at the Walker Memorial Library in North Muskegon. I may have been three. I may have been five. My mother introduced him to me, and both of my grandmothers approved. I have strong memories of all three reading the story of Max to me.  I remember only a few titles from when  I was that age — The Littlest Angel, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and Where the Wild Things Are. I have enjoyed those titles from time to time as I rediscover them. But I come back to Max and the Wild Things more often that any of the others. I often look at the book just to remember it and enjoy it again. I like the way Max takes charge of the monsters and shows no fear of them. I remember the last page of the book and the final line “and it was still hot,” referring to the supper that Max’s mom had relented on and brought to his bedroom at the end of the adventure.  Forgiveness is always possible even for wild things. 

I look back on the journey of my life and how I have left Max and come back to him several times.  Whenever I read to the students that my wife teaches, I always start and end the year with the Wild Things. And because I love the book, they love the book and ask if I can still read it by heart. I can.

I flirted with other authors who have entertained me with new stories about different monsters, real and imagined.  I have discovered other picture books and have fallen in love with them, looking forward to sharing them with my family. But I always came back to Sendak’s story of a naughty boy dressed in a wolf suit and making mischief of one kind or another.

I have amassed a large collection of Wild Things toys, puzzles, posters and fuzzy figures given to me by friends, family and folks cleaning out the backroom or closet of their library. (Thank you Krause Memorial and East Grand Rapids!) Every kid in my life knows the reason they own at least one copy of the Wild Things is because Uncle Jim always has copies to give away. Some copies are new for babies, some are used for older kids and adults, some are tattered copies that have been removed from the library to be used for crafts and to make pictures to hang up. But I find them all homes. Every wild thing needs a good home.

I am not normally one to follow celebrity lives and deaths. I was disappointed when Robert B. Parker died, but only because that meant no more stories about Spencer and Hawk. I was sad when John Candy and Chris Farley died because I will no longer see new works from them, but life goes on rather quickly.

But when Maurice Sendak died, I really took it hard. I lost a friend. Sure he was a friend that never knew me, but I knew him. He had been in my life for more than 40 years. I miss him.

Thank you Maurice for showing us that the monsters can be kept at bay.

Thank you for telling the truth to kids; childhood can be tough, but it can be survived.

And thank you for Max and his wolf suit. And for the mischief he made.

Written by Jim Dewald Jr., Circulation Manager at the Kentwood branch


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2 Responses to “The Wild Rumpus Ends”

  1. Linda Says:

    Thank you for taking the time to write this. His books are so much fun to read to all kids and the kids respond so well to his work.

  2. Carol Says:

    I mourn with you, Jim. You have written a beautiful and heartfelt tribute to Maurice Sendak. I’m sure that his spirit will continue to live on–every time another child discovers his books and every time an adult rediscovers his books when reading them aloud to a child.