Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Let the Wild Rumpus Start

by Elizabeth

The other night, my daughter brought our well-worn copy of Are You My Mother, by P.D. Eastman, to me, begging me to read it aloud. Understand my daughter is eleven, and breezed through The Hunger Games in a single night. But she remembered my reading this to her as a little girl, particularly my interpretation of the "Snort," and she longed to hear it again.

My reading of that book came with some practice, experience I got long before I became a mother. In my first year of college, I joined my school's Speech and Debate Team, and was cast in "All Tied Up," a Reader's Theater themed about the bonds we make. Frankly, a group of newbies, we kind of sucked. (Though three of us were undefeated National champions the next year with a show about Vietnam.) But one highlight of the 25-minute script was a selection from Are You My Mother, featuring yours truly as the baby bird. I had a great face and a better voice, and some fifteen years later, read that book to my kids with the same accent. And judging by the request the other night, it was a memorable hit.

Better still, it introduced me to the realization that I was pretty good with this reading of kids' literature. As my kids went from the Snugli to my lap to squeezed in close to read, I enjoyed the specific cadence of reading aloud various children's books (and hated a few, but we'll leave those unmentioned). Henry and Mudge? an absolute pleasure, every one of them, thank you Cynthia Rylant. We sobbed through the end of the near-perfect Charlotte's Web, giggled with most of Dr. Suess, tickled with Shel Silverstein, held our breaths through the adventures of Harry Potter.

But there was one book that was always extra fun to read, and one I felt I excelled at, so much that hearing others read it to their kids or at the book store or library, I always felt a surge of pride knowing my interpretation was outstanding. "The night Max wore his wolf suit," I'd begin, slowly and with an air of gravity, "and made mischief of one kind and another..." all the way to the final "and it was still hot," the whispered and exultant last line. Where the Wild Things Are, of course, by the incomparable Maurice Sendak. Who died just the other day.

They replayed an interview with him from last fall on The Terri Gross show, and I caught part of it as I ran errands. I learned that while the man had great respect for life, he believed this one was it, and he wanted it to continue even as he saw friends and family pass on. No afterlife, he thought, and relished the life he had. If one defines a successful life as including impact on others, and I do, then with some 19 million copies of just one of his books sold, you'd have to class Mr. Sendak with that group.

But I hope he's wrong, and that there's a special place he's visiting now, maybe chatting it up with Shel and E.B. and perhaps JM Barrie, and legions of others who have elevated children's literature for myself, my kids, and surely well into the following generations. It's always sad to see the great ones go. But we are so lucky they were here. He is still hot.


  1. A lovely post, Elizabeth. I also loved Are You My Mother? as a child...gosh, hadn't thought about that one in years!

    And I'm with you...imagining Mr. Sendak in some kind of heavenly
    writers' group.

  2. Thanks, Cindy. I have always loved kids' books.


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