I must have been in first grade at Bellmawr Park Elementary when I first found "Where the Wild Things Are" by Maurice Sendak. My memories are a bit fuzzy but I can see the book on the shelf in the school's library and I can see me taking it off the shelf and taking it to the librarian to check it out. I guess this memory is so ingrained in me because I checked the book out nearly each and every week, reading it often in my wood-panelled room, wishing I was on that boat with Max and sailing to where the wild things lived. I remember my mother telling me frequently to return the book so other kids could read it. I also remember being very, very angry that I had to let it go. Something about it spoke to my six year old self and spoke to me so deeply that to this day, I consider "Where the Wild Things Are" to be my favourite book of all time.
That book meant a lot more to me in my life since that first grade reading. Most importantly, it gave me the spark to read. The story was so simple and so powerful in portraying the incredible imagination of the human mind, even the tender brain of a young boy much like myself, that can create a whole world in his head was awe inspiring. To realise that you can find many strange new worlds between the dust jackets of all those other books sitting on the library shelves enthralled me. I quickly jumped, over the next few years, from reading at my grade level to tackling headier topics, diving into the stacks set aside for fourth and fifth graders, with science fiction and fantasy eventually captivating me to this day.
I then spent hours in the Carnegie Library on the corner of Illinois and Pacific Avenues once I moved to Atlantic City, combing through the stacks for new adventures and ideas, taking me on journeys far and beyond the land of the wild things.
But I always came back. Once in a while, I'd see the book in a store or when passing the children's section at the library and I would take it from the shelf and a sense of ownership would take hold as I opened the book and began to read. I felt that every copy of this book was my copy. Each time it was so familiar, so vivid, the illustrations always captivated me, it was as if it was the first time I read it. It was as if the thousandth time I read it. And I would laugh at little Max, gnashing his teeth and jumping about in his wolf suit, being so bad. I feel his sting as he was sent to his room by his mother, that fear of rejection. That moment when you doubt your mother's love. I lived his fear at meeting the Wild Things, these new and strange friends and his utter joy when he proclaimed, as their eventual king, to "LET THE WILD RUMPUS START!"
When I woke yesterday and saw the news that Maurice Sendak died, I sat facing the computer and cried. I cried and cried as if I had lost a close friend. I have never cried over someone I've never met before, not in this way, and not over an author but I sobbed like a baby at this great loss. I'll leave the whys to those who care about such things. I know why I cried and it felt good to mourn his loss. I will be in mourning for a little while and hearing his name or seeing the book will probably bring tears to my eyes.
Mr. Sendak, you have given me the most important gift one human could give another. You opened my mind. You showed me that the world is scary and strange and new and wondrous and that it can be whatever you make it. You have given me the strength to face that world as a brave little boy. As a young man. As a man.
And you also showed that love is unconditional. And it's there. And it's waiting for you.
"...and it was still hot."