Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Rumpus in Peace.

Image found here: http://slices-of-life.com/2010/01/09/wild-find-bits-pieces-lost-youth/

Good Morning, Readers.

It is a sad day in the world of literature. Maurice Sendak,  author of more than 50 children's books (including the iconic "Where the Wild Things Are"), passed away yesterday. He was 83 years old.

I remember reading many of his books growing up. My second grade class did our own interpretation of "Where the Wild Things Are" for our spring pageant/choir concert one year. We had one kid as Max, another kid as Mother, and the rest of us were Wild Things, decked out in feathers, faux fur, pipe cleaners, toilet paper tubes shaped to look like horns, and paper grocery bags with arm holes cut out.

I can't remember what the exact point of the pageant was, but I think we tied how to do addition/subtraction problems with decimals in there somewhere.

As much as I love Sendak's children's books, my FAVORITE work of his wasn't a book or illustration. It was the set design and costume design he did for the Pacific Northwest Ballet.

When I was small, my family had a tradition of spending a few days after Christmas with my grandparents. We would nibble on crackers, play with our cousins, show off our gifts, go sledding and build snowmen...and when it started to get dark, we would all go in and watch videos.

My grandmother had a copy of the PNB's Nutcracker that we would watch at least once every year. The set designs, choreography, storytelling, and costumes were so beautiful and mesmerizing...and a little bit terrifying. The ballet started out with this HUGE, creepy looking nutcracker face that took up the entire stage...

Image found here: http://dazzling-exciting.blogspot.com/2010/12/nutcracker-stowell-sendak.html
and as the overture was playing, the nutcracker's mouth would open up, and just keep going and going...as if the entire ballet was taking place inside of the nutcracker's mouth.

Let me tell you, Readers...that set piece in particular (The Rat King character, too) gave me nightmares as a kid. It scared the CRAP out of me! But you know what? It was okay. I still LOVED watching that video! I begged my Grandma to play it! At the age of four, yes, I was intimidated and a little bit scared of Sendak's dark, menacing art style and characters...but I knew that I was looking at something beautiful. I was seeing something VERY special. Something I wanted to be a part of, even though it scared me to look at it sometimes.

My favorite was the Peacock dance. Some little girls wanted to be  veterinarians,  astronauts, or Miss America...I wanted to be the Peacock in the Nutcracker.

Image found here: http://blog.seattlepi.com/alltheworldsastage/category/ballet/
Since then, I've seen dozens of different Nutcracker performances, but in my humble opinion, not a single one of them can hold a candle to PNB's.

I think that Sendak's genius came not from his artistic talent or writing ability, but for his insistence that children are more than capable of dealing with the aspects of their lives that can be uncomfortable, intimidating, or scary. In my mind, it is the dark and scary things that make the bright and beautiful things all the more wonderful in Sendak's works, which is why so many people hold on to them and love them so much.

A very wise man once said that you can't truly experience bliss and happiness unless you've experienced anguish and pain. I believe this rings very true in ALL aspects of life, including children's literature.

I was terrified of certain aspects of Sendak's Nutcracker, but I still LOVED it. The scary bits made it REAL for me. Life has scary bits. I was no stranger to having nightmares or being afraid. But seeing the beauty, grace, and sheer GENIUS of the ballet made it all worth it.

So, Readers, I raise my coffee cup to the original King of the Wild Things. May he dance in the Wild Rumpus forever in the hereafter.

Until next time.

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