A recent survey declared Goodnight Moon the best picture book of all time, but for me it begins and ends with The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I loved that book so much, almost as much as I loved Snowy Day. It takes a lot of effort to admit that Where the Wild Things Are comes in third, because Maurice Sendak's death is clouding my judgment. But can you really compare degrees of love? People don't make you pick a favorite child, so I can't really pick a favorite childhood memory.
It doesn't take a degree in children's literature to declare Wild Things the best of the three. It's a paean to imagination, it understands children in a way the others don't, and it's a perfect example of using illustration to represent emotion in a picture book. Sendak was one of the greatest (and easily the most reluctant) children's author / illustrators ever, and the landscape of children's bookselling that he helped create has muted colors over his passing.
As loyal Sweet Readers know, Maurice Sendak has a special place in our hearts that he has enjoyed for some time. Apart from the homage and the semi-serious pleas in those posts, Becky and I have been working behind the scenes for some time to make a Max tattoo drawn by Sendak himself a reality on Becky's famous arm. Becky and I work in the book business at an indie with a lot of clout. We don't know people, but we know people who know the right people, and we wanted to make it happen.
A couple of months back, we got our answer; Sendak said he "couldn't commit to something like that at this time." I didn't blog about that because we never gave up hope. Now, well.
I'm not trying to make this about me. The loss to books is greater but the loss of the dream hits closer to home. Everyone I've spoken with has their own memory of his work, and their own sorrow at his death. This is just mine. We may not have a tattoo to remember him by, but at least we have his work.
On Tuesday night, Becky and I put Dylan to bed with In the Night Kitchen, Outside Over There, and Where the Wild Things Are; all three read just fine. Mighty fine, in fact. Dylan did say he was "too sad" to fall asleep, but he was probably just trying to delay his bedtime. Or sympathizing with his sad sack parents.
Eventually we'll enjoy his work without the taint of sadness. In the meantime...