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Maurice Sendak’s Birthday

Author John Cech
Air Date 6/12/2000

Maurice Sendak’s Birthday Transcript

Brief Sound Clip

That’s Angela Coin, belting out part of the familiar title song for the 1981 Broadway version of Maurice Sendak’s “Really Rosie,” set to Carole King’s music.

In the character, Rosie, Sendak found not only the archetypal child diva, but the irrepressible spirit of childhood itself–bursting with inventive play and energy, vulnerable and yet surprisingly durable–capable of surviving the most boring or frustrating of days by building dreamscapes of fantasy to disappear into, if only for a few moments on a hot, summer afternoon.

Sendak was born on June 10th, 1928, in Brooklyn–Rosie’s home town, too. Sendak first saw a child like Rosie (and, in fact, a child named Rosie), playing on the street outside his parents’ apartment building during the summer when he was a year out of high school and looking for a job and a way to do something with the art he had been practicing since he was a young child. So he filled notebooks full of sketches and fragments of dialogue between Rosie and her friends. And the dramas that she created on the curbs and stoops of Avenue P became the subject of one of Sendak’s books from the 1950s, The Sign on Rosie’s Door, and ultimately, the core plot all of Sendak’s own stories: a child is caught in a difficult emotional situation, and she or he goes to fantasy not only for relief but also for a way to transcend the limitations (of size, of power, of action) that children feel so acutely. In telling these truths about the secret life of childhood, in the dozen books he has written himself and in the dozens and dozens he has illustrated for others, Sendak in his lifetime has completely redrawn the face of American picture books.

He has put the spotlight on subjects that were, at the time, hidden offstage in children’s books–anger, intense sibling rivalry, strong, wonderful fantasies. Sendak gives these feelings a shape, a form, and place in the geography of our children’s psyches; they’re to be found “where the Wild Things are,” dreamed “in the night kitchen,” located “outside over there.” It’s the place where we bake, every night, like his character Mickey, that fragant, yeasty dough for the morning cake–what a delicious birthday present Sendak has created for all of us!

Posted in Literature