Editor's Note: Kate Messner is an award-winning children’s author whose books include "Over and Under the Snow," "Eye of the Storm," and the "Marty McGuire" chapter book series. Kate is reachable on Twitter and through her website.
I was a good kid growing up. I didn’t break rules much, didn’t act out, and aside from the occasional muddy sneaker tracks on the carpet, didn’t cause my parents a whole lot of grief.
I was raised in a family where people were mostly pretty happy with one another. You weren’t supposed to yell. You weren’t supposed to get mad at people you loved. If you did, you kept it to yourself. You certainly weren’t supposed to throw things around the house or bare you teeth at your parents in a menacing way.
Which is why Where the Wild Things Are was such a gift.
Every child knows the feeling of causing “mischief of one kind and another” and being called on it, sent to the bedroom or time out or the principal’s office. A whole flock of dark emotions rush in to join you there, in the uncomfortable quiet. They line up in chairs next to yours. Remorse. Shame. Anger.
What’s a good kid to do with those “bad” feelings? I never knew how to live alongside them … until I met Max. Max created mischief, for sure, more than I ever dared. And when he got sent to his room, his stomping, awful mood didn’t get any better. Did he pretend everything was okay? No. He took a journey of imagination, to the land of the wild things, where he was the wildest thing of all. In the safety of his room, Max danced with monsters who “roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws.”
Then he came home. And it was okay. No, better than okay, because he’d gone off to feel the feelings he needed to feel. Dinner was waiting (he knew it would be) and it was still hot.
As a child, I learned from Max and Maurice that it’s not only okay to visit those ugly emotional places – but that we must visit them. They taught me that it’s all right for a good girl to get angry. They taught me to roar until I was done. And then to come home for supper.
As an artist, sometimes I write scenes, and my inner editor appears to cluck her teeth. “That’s too dark,” she’ll say, shaking her head, “That’s too weird. It’s too out-there.” But thanks to Maurice Sendak’s wild work, I ask myself different questions. Is it true? Is it real, in the way that only imaginary monsters and distant dreamlands can be? If it is, it stays, wild and unseemly or not.
Sendak left us many a gift in the form of his brilliant illustrations, but perhaps even greater than the art itself was the spirit he infused in his work, the model he offered for writing and for life.
We all have a wild, angry, foot-stomping, teeth-gnashing side. How it comes out depends largely on how well we’ve learned to express ourselves, how we’ve been taught to own and honor life’s sharp teeth and hairy emotions.
In the land of the Wild Things, Max learned from the best.
And so did I. Thanks, Mr. Sendak.