If I need to find my youngest daughter Lizabeth in a crowd, I just look for the black hooded jacket she’s practically lived in for the past couple of years. It’s got a giant image from the book “Where the Wild Things Are” on the back, and she’s especially mindful of wearing it today knowing that 83-year-old Maurice Sendak, an author and illustrator who was born and raised in Brooklyn, has died.
I shared the news with a local librarian shortly after hearing it. She seemed both shocked and saddened. I’d gone to the Scottsdale Civic Center Library with my son Christopher to check out a copy of “Brundibar,” the work of both Sendak and Tony Kushner (known to theater folks for writing the play “Angels in America“). Reading Sendak’s work feels like a good way to honor him.
I brought the book along when we headed to our neighborhood yogurt shop — knowing Christopher likes to linger over his vanilla swirl with gummy worms. Some things boys just never seem to outgrow. Christopher saw “The Wild Things” movie with me several years ago, and felt a special kinship for the lead character Max, whose moods are often larger than life.
Christopher looked over my shoulder as I read through “Brundibar,” taking special note of the yellow star on a doctor’s jacket, challah bread in the town bakery and a sign reading “Arbeit Macht Frei.” Sendak once told a reporter for The New York Times that “The Holocaust has run like a river of blood through all my books.” His family’s experiences with depression have been reported as well.
Tonight, while driving to oldest daughter Jennifer’s favorite Mexican food joint, we listened to NPR’s re-broadcast of a Terry Gross interview with Sendak that covered all sorts of topics. The different ways he related to his brother and his sister. His decision to remain childless. The fact that his parents died never knowing he was gay.
Take time in coming days and weeks to revisit the work of artist Maurice Sendak, and to learn more about the man behind the stories — for he’s fascinating folk. Read his works alone and with your family. Consider gifts to causes he supported. Listen to the opera that inspired “Brunibar.” Explore the Rosenbach Museum and Library collection of Sendak manuscripts and illustrations. Wrestle with the “wild things.” And act on two words at the heart of his work: Never again.
Coming up: One mother’s diary