Get out the tissues, Moms and Dads. Legendary children's book author Maurice Sendak has died at 83. The man who sent us to cavort with Max in the land of the wild things never had kids of his own, but his books made clear how he thought they should be treated.
Raised by Polish immigrants who lost many of their relatives in the Holocaust, Sendak knew about death and dying from a young age. And the way he saw it, other kids could handle life's big truths. His books were like an ultimate "FU" to the helicopter parenting trend.
Kids in Sendak's world can be nice or nasty. They can be greedy or graceful. They can be scared. They can be forced to think. They are real kids living in a world devoid of the purple cats and talking unicorns that people much of the kiddie lit section of the library. Sendak wasn't afraid to offend parents, landing him on the most censored books in America list countless times.
I'd wager his honest portrayals of children are exactly why parents like me gravitated to him. Sendak provided a balance to our kids' bookshelves. His stories were at times magical and fun, the stuff that made them "kiddish," and yet, read a Sendak book at bedtime, and you feel like you are getting to know your own child better. You are diving into that place deep down inside them, beyond the giggles and scraped knees. It's the place where they think thoughts you cannot hear, fear things you cannot see.
Published last fall, his last book, Bumble-Ardy, was a take-off on a sketch he'd put together for Sesame Street in the '70s. It scared the pants off of my 6-year-old. And I'm sure if I'd been lucky enough to meet him and tell him that, Sendak would have been proud. He was a bit of a crank that way. But he was a lovable crank, an honest one, a man who helped us be better parents. And now he's gone. We will never get another book from him.
And so today we parents wish to say to Maurice Sendak, "Please don't go! I'll eat you up I love you so!"
What is your favorite Sendak book to read to your kids?
Image via Barnes and Noble