Maurice Sendak Is Back
The older I get, the more I discover that the figures and fiction that formed my childhood aren’t what I’d known them to be. Kermit was just a man with his hand in a sock, The Catcher in the Rye wasn’t actually written for me, Beck is a scientologist.
More often that not, childhood feels like a grand deception, and nostalgia seems like some form of Stockholm Syndrome. But occasionally, the truth behind the legends of my upbringing restores my faith in, well, my upbringing.
“As a kid, all I thought about was death. But you can’t tell your parents that,” revealed Maurice Sendak in a Vanity Fair profile written by another hero of my youth, Dave Eggers. Sendak, who wrote and illustrated the classic picture books In the Night Kitchen and Where the Wild Things Are (the latter adapted by Eggers into a novel and film), has apparently taken a break from composing operas to release Bumble-Ardy, the first picture book he’s both written and illustrated in three decades, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The book, says the Journal, is an adaption of an animated short Sendak made with Sesame Street in 1971 in which a boy throws himself a wild birthday party in his mother’s absence. Sendak has been thinking about the boy ever since. Sendak told the WSJ, “He was funny. He was robust. He was sly. He was a sneak. He was all the things I like.” Bumble-Ardy has evolved, however, into a piglet for the upcoming picture book.
In conversation with Eggers, Sendak appears humble and delightfully wry:
Sendak’s sense of humor is pitch-black and ribald, though this fact, and the baroque essence of his work, is often lost on readers now that his books have become canonical. “A woman came up to me the other day and said, ‘You’re the kiddie-book man!’ I wanted to kill her.” He hates to be thought of as safe or his work as classic, and he won’t tolerate overpraise. “My work is not great, but it’s respectable. I have no false illusions.”
In this instance, I’m glad a childhood hero has proven himself two be more than the two-dimensional “kiddie-book man” I’d envisioned. And of course his work and reputation stay strong. In the article, Eggers describes Sendak as “simply the best, living creator of picture books.” Sendak, on the other hand, looks over his latest creation and declares that it’s “obviously the work of a man with dementia.”
Seems like we’re leaving the next generation in good hands.
Bumble-Ardy will be released by HarperCollins in September. Click here to read the rest of the Eggers’s portrait of Sendak on vanityfair.com. And for another look behind the scenes of your childhood, check out Elizabeth Steven’s essay on The Muppets, “Weekend at Kermie’s.”
–Benjamin Samuel is the Online Editor of Electric Literature. Not much else has changed since childhood.