On one hand, you have childhood: the years in which we are children, when we do the things children do. And then there’s youth: the years in which we are shaped, in which we begin to learn and understand the world, when we recklessly soak up art and critique and influence.
The difference is subtle. One defines us by our age, while the other defines us for the future. One is dominated by developmental growth, while the other is defined by a growth of taste and intellect.
We’d expect one to come after the other. But sometimes, childhood and youth collide. Sometimes, we’re able to cherish simplicity while still moving forward. We capture the growth of childhood with the wildness of youth.
There are books that defy genre in this way. Rarely do those books end up on our children’s shelves.
Where the story does not just tweak the imagination, but is about imagination itself; where art is used as a bridge toward new worlds, where the most simple lines are delivered in a way that, generations later, authors can build upon them without losing the meaning. Without losing the feel of those monsters. Those wild things.
Childhood is about growing up, misbehaving, and understanding which boundaries can be broken. Youth is about taking those broken boundaries and learning how to use them. Without either, we have no art. We have no literature.
Where the Wild Things Are is as close to a perfect mix of childhood and youth as I’ve ever seen. What’s more, it’s a portal into the minds of my kids. Every day, I see a little bit of Max in their actions. Every day, I see it in their eyes. Every day, I remind myself that they’re kids, and they’re not being naughty – they’re being curious.
They’re moving away from childhood, and toward youth. They’re growing. Learning.
Thank you, Mr. Sendak. Thank you for standing up for the wild things. Every day.
“Please don’t go. We’ll eat you up, we love you so.”
RIP, Maurice Sendak.