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Where the Wild Things Are Turns 50: The Child's Journey, the Memory of JFK and What Sendak Taught Us

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Maurice Sendak's great book Where the Wild Things Are has just turned 50 years old.

Sendak captured the inner and complex world of childhood, riveted by sorrows and pleasures: the dark fearsome corners and the underlying sense of both wanting to roam and explore and wanting to be home, where the supper is still hot and all small and large bumps in the road will be forgiven, and also put to bed.

Max was a surprising hero for the time, born the same turbulent year I was born, in 1963, a week after the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

This book, a radical combination of dark and light, funny and poignant, themes of loneliness and friendship, adventure and home, came upon the American scene just as an entire world was immediately changed by a searing event.

Sendak was not afraid to address themes that other children's book authors had long avoided: a child's own struggle to understand the mysteries and vagaries of a grownup world, the wild unpredictability of human nature, and the wild, wild world itself.

But his writing and especially his drawings had a large and generous humanity to them. The beasts looked scary, but they were actually tender and kind. And they wanted to play. The adventure came to an end, with the promise of a parent who was there too, out of sight, unseen, but yet providing for the comfort the tired child so desperately needs.

Perhaps that book, coming along just at the moment it did, was not just for the children who read it. The parent, on a dark and fearsome night, reading that new book to the eager yet tired child, also might have found in those pages a strong and powerful measure of comfort him or herself.

This book says this: that a sometimes frightening world still has a way of taming the wild things. That a child can triumph and best the darkness with kindness and a desire to play. That a parent can be waiting, always ready.

Let the power of this book continue to resonate, even as we face all sorts of new wild things in our own lives, in the American landscape, and around the world. Let us make the hot suppers for each other.