Maurice Sendak has just died. He shared a special place… along with Roald Dahl (1990), Dr Seuss (1991), and Shel Silverstein (1999) in the hearts of children and of adults who enjoy children’s literature. They were all weird, quirky, eccentric, surprising, and … best of all… scary. Kids love, and need to be exposed to, scary fantasy writing. Bruno Bettleheim (himself a very strange and controversial figure) explains why in The Uses of Enchantment.
Sendak was no nice, grandfatherly figure, who surrounded himself at library readings with eager listeners… no Robert Munsch. He was a very angry and difficult person. It is too bad that I cannot link to his last interviews, two parts, on The Colbert Report. The Comedy Network blocks comedy programs from Canadian distribution on YouTube. Try to find them if you live elsewhere… they are said to be among Colbert’s best programs.
The best known Sendak book is Where the Wild Things Are. Obama, who says it is one of his favourite books, can be heard reading it on YouTube… another mark in his favor! Click on the image at the top of the blog to see the illustrations and hear Sendak reading it himself, with cool music and scary voices!
WTWTA is a wonderful book to read aloud with little kids… lots of drama… mean faces, scary voices, shouting, menacing gestures. A great opportunity for Mom and Dad to release their repressed inner child and indulge in amateur theatrics. No wonder this is the book the kids will ask for over and over again!
The New York Times and The Washington Post have long obituary articles, but I prefer this one from Rolling Stone. If you’ve only time to read one, choose The Rolling Stone. I expect there will be many more.
My favourite Sendak work, however, is not one of his marvellous books, but the design he created for the Pacific Northwest Ballet Company (Seattle) for The Nutcracker. Repeated annually for twenty five years now, a film version is usually aired on television at Christmas… not to be missed! Here are two clips. Talk about scary… the Mouse King puppet is 27 feet tall! The first features exotic dances…the Spanish, Arabian, Chinese and Russian dances from “The Divertisement”. The second is the pas de deux with Clara and the Nutcracker. (At the end of each clip that I have chosen YouTube will automatically load a menu of other dances. Each time the blog is opened, my choices will appear.)
And as you watch the clips, think of how fortunate we are that the sickly little boy from an unhappy childhood was able develop his innate talent and weirdly eccentric point of view to produce amazing art that entertains and inspires year after year.
NB. caveat emptor… There is a new 3D Nutcracker that came out last year. It is very different! Its’ retelling of the story, with violent scenes and overtones of Nazi oppression, is highly controversial. I would like to see it for comparison, but it is not the ballet we love!