Our Pages

Monday, May 14, 2012

Remembering Maurice Sendak

Maurice Sendak passed away on May 8 of this year, and for many of my generation, his passing was not unlike losing a grandfather you've only known and admired from afar. So many of us grew up reading and absorbing his stories that we felt like we knew him personally. I grew up going to Montessori school in the 1970s, where Sendak's works easily formed a kind of preschool canon. You couldn't not read Sendak—no, by first grade, you had memorized Sendak.

For many kids, Where the Wild Things Are was the touchstone of their childhood, but my favorite Sendak book was Chicken Soup With Rice: A Book of Months. I loved to read it aloud, the poetry tripping off my tongue. I loved how he wrote about August. My birthday is in August and I have always hated the month—too hot, with icing melting off my cake. And, of course, no school friends in town for a birthday party. But in Sendak's world: In August/ It will be so hot/ I will become/ a cooking pot/ Cooking soup, of course
In other words, yes, August is hot and kind of a drag, but you can still enjoy the things you love. Even cooking chicken soup with rice. Lesson well-learned.

Sendak's works weren't the only ones I loved. The first book I read on my own was called Tiki Tiki Tembo. It's the story of two Chinese brothers, the younger one named Chang, and the eldest named (take a deep breath) Tiki-tiki tembo, no sa rembo, chari bari ruchi, pip peri pembo, and their adventures with a certain dangerous old well. The book was marvelous for reading aloud, as you had to say Tiki Tiki Tembo's name over and over again until you ran out of breath, like his poor brother Chang.

My daughter, who is five, is not as enamored of Sendak or Tiki Tiki Tembo as I was, although my copies of these books still rest on her bookshelves. She is more enamored of Madeline, and loves to recite the opening lines with me: In an old house in Paris/ That was covered in vines/ Lived twelve little girls in two straight lines…

Madeline is so much a part of her life that, when my daughter is angry with her father, she asks him to read Madeline and the Bad Hat to her before bedtime. She takes especial relish in quoting Madeline aloud, "Oh, what a horror was Pepito!" but by the end of the book, her anger towards Daddy has been resolved, and she can rest with a light heart. I finally had to break the news to my husband, "I think she thinks YOU are the Bad Hat." He understands the ritual a little better now.

Children's books are so important because they really form the foundation of all of our reading and writing skills. When we get older, we branch out and explore different genres, but when we are little, we all read the same ones. It's a delightful communal experience, one that kind of bridges the gaps between all of us--no matter what are childhoods were like.

What books did you enjoy reading when you were a child? Do your kids enjoy reading the same ones, or do they have their own favorites?

26 comments:

  1. Truthfully I don't really remember reading much as a child. Reading wasn't my favorite things to do. If you looked at my language arts scores you would see I struggle. I do remember reading a few books with my class in school. For instances Laura Ingalls Wilder Farmer Boy, EB White Charlotte's Web, or Shel Silversteins Where the Side Walk Ends. It wasn't until I was getting a little older that I started liking to read. It could be we had silent reading time. About middle school I really loved RL Stines Fear Street Series. I just couldn't those down. In High School I found romance novels. Those are my favorite things to read.

    As for children, my daughter actually likes all types of books. It really doesn't matter what it is. She likes them all. We have this one which is pretty fun too that's a history for cures for illness and some of the things back then are interesting and some are really gross.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Melody! I loved reading EB White and Laura Ingalls Wilder as a kid. I am *so* looking forward to sharing them with my daughter when she's older. :)

      Delete
    2. Melody,

      I loved "Where the Sidewalk Ends"!

      Delete
    3. I did too. I always tried to get my mom to buy it, but she wouldn't cause it was to expensive.

      Delete
  2. I remember a lot of picture books that I loved. The Giant Jam Sandwich, Harry the Dirty Dog, the Babar series, Clifford and yes, Madeline!

    My kids, being boys, enjoyed some of the ones I loved, but not others. But I definitely enjoyed finding new ones to love with them. The Arthur series was huge here, even before the TV show. And we still love Sandra Boynton.

    Fun!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Deb! My daughter LOVES Sandra Boyton. I think we read the Going to Bed Book until it fell apart. I tried to get her into Babar, but she's totally uninterested. :(

      Delete
  3. As a kid, I loved all Dr. Seuss books, but especially "Green Eggs & Ham" & "Horton Hears a Who". And I loved Curious George books, but I never understood why everyone got so uptight about the things he did. He was a monkey! Monkeys do weird stuff.

    My kids both loved Busytown and Little Critter books. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Samantha! My daughter's school celebrates Dr. Seuss day. It's so much fun. And I loved Curious George too. My daughter loves the TV show on PBS but the books--not so much. LOL

      Delete
  4. Lily ~ When I was younger I read biographies. Elizabeth I, Marie Antoinette, etc. Even then I preferred history, apparently. I also read every Nancy Drew book there was. (You'd think I could write a mystery to save my life, but alas...)

    For my son, he loved Dr. Seuss when he was younger and Frog & Toad books. When he was in elementary school, he got sucked into the world of Harry Potter and then Percy Jackson.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Ava, I loved reading biographies too. Still do, in fact. I remember reading one about Marie Antionette when I was in second grade. I didn't understand most of it, but I loved the descriptions of her gowns.

      Delete
  5. I loved Tomie dePaola books. My fav being "Legend of the Bluebonnet". Being a Texas girl, it was/is such a magical explanation for the beautiful little flowers. Another favorite was "Number the Stars" by Lois Lowry. Love that story! I still use it with my tutoring students.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Number the Stars" is such a good book. I didn't read it until my daughter brought it home from school. I ended up buying my own copy to keep so we had it for the other children too, in case they weren't assigned to read it in school (and to read again for myself).

      Delete
    2. I remember The Legend of the Bluebonnet! I loved all of those Tomie dePaola books. And I loved Lois Lowry. I can't wait to introduce my daughter to Anastasia!

      Delete
  6. My mother insists my favorite book was "Are you My Mother?" by Seuss. She claims she had to read it so often she was sick of it. I don't remember - LOL. I remember struggling to read in 1st grade (Dick, Jane and Spot - remember them). But, I had missed a lot of school and was behind on reading. I think that is why I did not like reading as a child and only read when forced to by teachers. However, I do remember two things that stuck with me from having to read them in the 4th grade - "The Gift of the Magi" and Martin Luther King's Speech "I Have A Dream". I can still remember sitting in class and reading those. Yet, it didn't make me want to continue reading anything else. I didn't fall in love with reading until I was sixteen.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I still love "The Gift of the Magi." What an incredible story!

      Delete
  7. My favorite books, both as a child and even now as an adult reading to my nephew, have always been Dr. Seuss. Green Eggs and Ham is a particular favorite. I was always a big fan of The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, but I haven't found a copy of that one yet to read to my nephew. His current favorite is The Lorax, so he was THRILLED when it became a movie that we could go watch at the theater a few months ago. We read it every time he spends the night, right before bed. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dr. Seuss is just plain fun to read aloud, isn't it? :)

      Delete
  8. I remember reading most of these books to my son. So sad that another wonderful author has died. Thanks for the post.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Oh I've read all of these books at one time or another, my favorites being Dr. Seuss and all of my kids love these books. Reading is special time, it brings a closeness that you can't find with any other activity and it's important to keep the next generation reading. My oldest boys don't read as much now as they did when they were little but they will tell you their most fondest memories are of mom reading Dr. Seuss to them. I am so sad to lose another great author of children's stories and I hope we can get a new generation of great children's authors to fill their shoes. Great blog. It brings back lots of memories.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I really treasure story time with my daughter, Suzie. You're right--it brings us closer together. :)

      Delete
  10. "Where the Wild Things Are" is one of my favorite books. My little niece likes the Little Bear books(Sendak illustrated this series.) I was also a fan of the Berenstain Bears.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I loved the Berenstain Bears! I think Jan Berenstain passed away not long ago, too. :(

      Delete
  11. As a kid Where the Wild Things Are scared me. It wasn't the monsters though--it was that kid, Max. Creeped me out. However BOTH of my babies love the book and as an adult I do,too.

    My favorite line is I'll eat you up: I love you so. *happy sigh*

    Side Note: I'd really like to buy The Pole book Steve Colbert did with MS. So funny!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I *loved* the series of interviews Sendak did with Stephen Colbert. So funny!

      Delete
  12. Nice post, Lily. I didn't read them as a child, but my girls like the Madeline books. We have more than I can count. :)

    ReplyDelete