Books That Transport Us
People often ask me, "What is your all-time favorite picture book?" As many reading this post will attest, it is nearly impossible to provide a satisfactory response to that question. Considering all of the variables, readers and authors undoubtedly consider many factors when defining "favorite." So how can I tell if a book is a true favorite?
Because it touches the reader's soul.
Those are the books that stay with us long after the final words are read or the last image is presented. Those are the books that align themselves with our creative and emotional selves. Those are the picture books that we most likely memorized long ago and can still recite, years later. Those are the picture books, that we can both see, and hear, despite not remembering when we lost saw the copies. Those picture books did their job; they are the ones that transported us, affected us, and left a permanent mark on us, a positive one. I put Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are" in this category.
My oldest daughters most likely remember this story, and my agony over first allowing them to hear it. Librarians from past generations might also recall "Where the Wild Things Are" was actually held from many shelves and recommendations were made to keep it away from children altogether.
In the story, Max taunted his mother and was subsequently sent to bed without any dinner. That notion alone, did not bode well with my rational, and emotional mind. In essence, that went against all of my parenting training and my early childhood education as well! Food must never be withheld as a form of punishment! That is both negligent and abusive! I was desperately trying to explain the bad choices this parent made, while my daughter's were entranced with Max's magical voyage. And I was missing the magic too.
This story soon became a requested bedtime favorite and I worried too, about sending my daughters to bed with ammunition for horrific nightmares. It was not necessarily the images in the story, that I worried might affect my children adversely, it was the language,
"The wild things cried, "oh please don't go-we'll eat you up-we love you so!"
Is that something you would say to your kids before tucking them in at night?
But I did, over and over again.
Maurice Sendak won the Caldecott Medal in 1964 for "Where the Wild Things Are". Interviewed years later in an episode for PBS, the host mentions to Maurice Sendak that it appears this is not a story he simply made up. Maurice Sendak responds,
"That's what art is. You don't make up stories. You live your life."
And perhaps that is why this book touches my soul. It comes from a very real place. Maurice Sendak, through his beautiful language and illustrations, allows us to see a bit of his soul. And as a result, we go on a magical journey with him, as well as Max,
"Max stepped into his private boat and waved good-bye
and sailed back over a year
and in and out of weeks
and through a day".........
Picture books can make these types of journeys possible. Good ones transport us, yet lead us back home again....and they touch our soul.
Maurice Sendak 2004 Interview with Bill Moyers http://www.pbs.org/now/arts/sendak.html