AmericanStudies

One Interesting American Thing per Day

Ben Railton

Ben Railton
Location
Needham, Massachusetts, US
Birthday
August 15
Title
Associate Professor
Company
Fitchburg State University
Bio
One interesting American thing per day, from a professor of American literature, culture, history, and Studies. Check out http://www.americanstudier.org for more!

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MAY 10, 2012 12:33PM

May 10, 2012: Maurice Sendak

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[A break in the insight-full series to pay tribute to one of 20th century America’s most unique and talented artists.]

Those who know me, and more exactly know how I feel about William Faulkner, will know just how much of a compliment it is for me to say that Maurice Sendak was the Faulkner of children’s books.

I don’t mean that in an American Studies way. Compared to Faulkner and his profound connection to a particular place and world, and likewise compared to the other children’s authors and books that have appeared in this space—Margaret Weis Brown and her educational advocacy, Ezra Jack Keats and The Snowy Day, Virginia Lee Burton and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel—Sendak and his works were particularly universal, connected to themes and images, narratives and emotions, that exist outside of any national tradition and, often, in the deepest cores of kids’ and all of our identities and lives. Does it make any difference where Max’s room is, what city Mickey’s night kitchen might emulate, where stubborn uncaring Pierre and his parents (and the lion) live? No, I don’t think it does.

Instead, what made Sendak Faulkner-esque, for me, was his ability, particularly in Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen, to create perhaps the closest thing to a true stream of consciousness style in children’s literature. Those books are pure representations of (respectively) the imagination and the dream, of the places where a child’s—and, again, all of our—mind and soul can go when inspired and given free reign. And whereas Faulkner’s stream of consciousness could be deeply discomfiting and frustrating, demanding multiple reads and intense analytical work, Sendak’s feels so right, so immediate, hits us—and doubly so hits kids, I have found—right where we live. If that’s not a gift, and a rare and powerful one, I don’t know what is.

May you find all the wild things and morning cake you can handle, Mr. Sendak. An American author and artist whose works and words will live on forever. Final insight tomorrow,

Ben

PS. Any Sendak thoughts or stories to share?

5/10 Memory Day nominee: T. Berry Brazelton, the pioneering pediatrician and advocate for early childhood education and awareness, whose efforts on behalf of some of our most vulnerable and important Americans (and humans) continue to this day.

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