Books. The great escape. Endless adventures, journeying to different worlds and into other people’s lives. (Okay yes, characters – I know!)
When I read on my own as an older child, it was more than a way to pass the time. And it was certainly not because I was told to start turning pages.
The characters in the books I read were my friends, or my idols, offering me the magic I craved. (I favoured nebulous fantasy and oddly magnificent characters.) I could remove myself from the parts of my childhood and teenage years that were painful.
I would be holed up in the secluded safety-net of my bed, or, better yet, under a tree or jungle gym in some park where I was even harder to reach. I would spend hours upon hours devouring books. Immediately upon opening whatever novel I was currently reading or about to begin, a feeling of calm and peace would trickle over me. The feeling of being safe. The remembrance of being read to as a younger child. Because those were the moments, like perfect, shiny fractions of time that I treasured, where I was safe and loved. Where I felt cherished. Those are the times that got me through the moments that could potentially traumatize a child as they are entering their young adult-hood.
I’m positive that reading is one of the greatest gifts we can give our babies and children. And not just the fluffy, sickly sweet books that I’ve never favoured. Not even when I was wee. I’ve always been a fan of the dark, for obvious reasons and perhaps because the dark stuff is just better. It’s reminiscent of reality and travels so much better throughout my imagination, tough shell and tender psyche.
Which is why the passing of Maurice Sendak has impacted me so. I’ve spent today, in it’s entirety – in between bum changes and sweet baby kisses – reminiscing about much of my childhood and some of the most treasured dog-eared books from that time. Not how I was supposed to be spending my day (the baby parts yes – but all of my other work has suffered), which is fine really. For an artist of Sendak’s stature and for all the ways his artistry assisted in mending me, it is actually perfect. Befittingly so.
When you’re really little, you don’t think about the author of the story. You just savour the cuddles and the delicious time being spent with those whom your whole world revolves around. And if the book is actually good? Pure gold. Those memories last forever and those books become your favourites. The characters; your heroines and heros. Admiration and awe for the likes of Max and Bumble-Ardy escaping in ways you only wished you could. Or at least, I did. As an adult you vow to stock entire collections in your children’s library so that these stories will become their favourites too.
I think, for the babies who are loved and cherished and perhaps don’t dream of escapism as much as the abused and forgotten, well – they also desire to escape at times too. They deserve the silly, the forlorn, the tragic tall tales of monsters and runaways and mayhem. They need something besides sugarplums dancing in their heads. Words and imagination are some of the very best ways to play. I relish every moment that I get to introduce such daily routine and alternate forms of transcendence to my babies. There weren’t many other authors like Sendak who could provide all of those things and delve into the innermost raw emotions of a child. Children are silly and strange at times, but they have sophisticated and scary thoughts too.
Sendak was most famous for Where The Wild Things Are, which made it to motion picture status thanks to Spike Jonze. (Whether or not the movie met the book’s brilliance is another story.) Sendak was also much more than a children’s picture book writer and illustrator. A true artist, he dabbled in many genres producing: a handful of animated shorts, award winning theatrical set designs, and becoming an early member of the National Board of Advisors of The Children’s Television Workshop. (Explains a lot about the sheer brilliance of Sesame Street back in the day, doesn’t it? We all know that it’s not as good as it used to be!)
When my editor asked which one of us on BFY wanted to cover the great artists’ death, I immediately wanted to jump at the chance. But I hesitated as well. To share how his stories and illustrations and writing sincerely impacted me would mean being honest. It would mean revealing truths about my childhood that don’t completely belong to me, perhaps even hurting others with whom my relationships with now are very different. Complicated stuff.
It goes to show how much reading meant to me. Today specifically, in honour of Maurice Sendak, par none. May his lessons and comedic (albeit dark), anecdotes on love, jealousy, pain, responsibility, rivalry, and loneliness and death live on. Where it all began for me, a ragged feeling little girl – who turned into a wild thing indeed. Now a momma whose newer copies of ‘Where The Wild Things Are’, ‘Outside Over There’ and ‘In The Night Kitchen’ are already on high and favoured rotation amongst some others, with her own little toddler boy and baby girl. She and her babies are wild most of the time.
“I cry a lot because I miss people. They die and I can’t stop them. They leave me and I love them more.” ~ Maurice Sendak
Top Image: Canada.com
More on the Babbles …