Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Maurice Sendak, 1928-2012

There are many children's book authors who have been major influences in my life: Theodore Geisel, Beverly Cleary, Eric Carle, Don Freeman, Stan & Jan Berenstain, Johnny Gruelle, author of the Raggedy Ann series, Noel Streatfeild, and innumerable more.  But perhaps none has had such an ongoing influence than Maurice Sendak.  In particular, Max and the Wild Things of the book Where the Wild Things Are, has followed me through my life.

When I was a little girl my mom brought me every week or so to library school, which was at least what I called the library preschool program in our urban city of Irvington, NJ.  I remember many things about that library: the blue plastic railing going down to the basement where the children's room was; a bird who resided there, or maybe just visited, who I believed talked; the large, seemingly life-like cardboard cut-outs of the Wild Things and Max.  Again, maybe they were painted, maybe they were cardboard, but large they were.  Max and the Wild Things became part of my weekly visits to the library.  What was originally apprehension at the sight of them became familiarity after I knew the story.

Fast forwarding several years to my post graduate classes I was taking to get my teaching certificate, we used Where the Wild Things Are as an example of a book that has wordless pages.  The beauty of this book and others like it is how it gives children the opportunity to write their own story.  I loved reading this book to my class and hearing all the different scenarios my preschool students would present.  Several years later I attended a 3 day course called the Children's Literary Initiative or CLI.  This book in particular was mentioned as one that introduces new vocabulary to children.  What is a rumpus anyway?  Whatever it is, let me in on the fun!

I had my own slightly battered copy of Where the Wild Things Are as part of my classroom library.  I loved reading it to my students, especially for the first time.  I had one particular little boy who was seemingly unreachable.  His home situation was not a good one and had little promise for improvement.  He was all over the place, unable to stay still for even a minute.  Frustrated one late afternoon, I asked him to bring me a book to read to him.  He immediately brought over my copy and said, "Max."  This was a boy who I thought paid zero attention to books being read aloud.  He could barely answer a direct question.  I had no idea he knew the character's name!

J. and I read Where the Wild Things Are everyday over the next few months while he was in my class.  He always had interesting comments about the Wild Things and even about the rumpus.  He thought that the food in the bowl at the end was macaroni and cheese.  J. would sit on my lap and we would read.  It was the only book he wanted to read, the only one to which he felt connected.  How powerful is that?  This little boy who lived in the projects, one of many children, regularly cursed at by his authority figures, who had very little stability - he connected with Max.  He knew what it felt like to be called a wild thing and sent to his bed, maybe even without dinner.  The day I found out that J. was not going to be in my class anymore I cried.  Where was he going?  Who was going to read about Max to him everyday?  I sent home a copy of the book.  I hope someone read it to him.  Or maybe he just looked at the pictures and let himself get lost in the land of the Wild Things.

At one point in that school year I noticed a bite-sized chunk out of my book.  J.had done it.  We had a talk about it, but it never really bothered me.  I smile now every time I see that bite taken out of the book.

Now, well now I read about Max to my own preschool-aged daughter.  I take my her to the library where we enter worlds beyond our imaginations, where little girls can turn pink by eating too many pink cupcakes, bears wearing corduroys pants can talk to you, and you can take a mouse to school with you.  And Max will be forever in my heart.

Maurice Sendak
Rest in Peace

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Happy 4th Birthday Lilly!

Oh my, how time flies!  I cannot believe that it is the eve of my baby girl's 4th birthday.  We have been celebrating with her since Friday and that in itself is so much fun!  She is just so excited by LIFE that it makes my life more exciting, adds worth to my life.

I told Lilly an abbreviated and age-appropriate version of her birth story today.  I am kind of  happy that I can tell this curious girl that yes, the doctor did take her from my tummy!  She loved hearing it.   I had started telling her in order to distract her from being upset and it calmed her and made her smile and snuggle in to me.  I always loved hearing the story of how my parents had to rush to the hospital and I was born 4 minutes later.'re not surprised that I would rush onto the scene like that were you??  Seriously though, I hope that Lilly loves to hear her story as much as I love hearing mine.

Stop & Stare was playing when Lilly was being delivered.
I think our birth stories are an integral part of who we are.  Even as she was growing in my womb I was beginning to know her and who she is.  She was always twirling around in there, as evidenced by the, ahem, 4 time nuchal cord!  And now...a skirt has to be twirly in order to make it into her wardrobe rotation.  The way she would dig her toes into my rib cage, thankyouverymuch, is what she did as she would lay next to me nursing in the wee hours of the morning.  Sometimes when she climbs into bed with me for an early morning snuggle she still digs her toes into my legs.

Besides the physical aspects, I think Lilly's personality was becoming apparent in the womb.  She always responded to the OM when I would practice prenatal yoga.  From a very young age I taught Lilly to take big breaths when she is upset.  She has even reminded me, "Momma, you need to take deep breaths."  I can hear her taking them on her own now, without a reminder.  Lilly can be extremely stubborn.  That became evident when she would always put her hands over her face during the 3D ultrasounds.  She just would not reveal herself!

And yet her sweetness and her sense of justice can be overwhelming to me at times.  She has such a beautiful soul.  People stop me everywhere we go and have, since she was an infant, to tell me how beautiful she is.  I think her soul just shines through her entire being.  My life without her would be dark indeed.