Mr. Sendak was shaped foremost by a sickly and homebound childhood in Depression-era Brooklyn, the deaths of family members in the Holocaust and vivid memories as a youngster reading about the kidnapping and murder of aviator Charles Lindbergh’s infant son. An admitted obsession with “children and their survival” and the “humongous heroism of children” fueled a career of groundbreaking darkness in children’s literature. President Bill Clinton presented him with the National Medal of Arts in 1996, saying, “His books have helped children to explore and resolve their feelings of anger, boredom, fear, frustration and jealousy.”
The middle class American childhood today is a stark contrast to Mr. Sendak’s—scheduled, sculpted, and supervised beyond all reasonable requirement or good sense.
But Sendak knew that terrors and fears, real or imagined, are part of every childhood, regardless of background or means. Like Mickey and Max, children are whisked off to the night kitchen or run away in a fit of pique to where the wild things are. They still check to see if a monster is under the bed, or perhaps hide from real monsters in their lives. Or goblins in their chicken soup with rice.
How can we each do that with and for the children in our care?