Maurice Sendak on what it's like to be a little kid

Maurice Sendak will be remembered for his iconic children's book Where the Wild Things Are. In 2011, Stephanie spoke with the late author about his final book, This Pig Wants to Party.

Photo Credit: John Dugdale

SSM: You’ve described Bumble-Ardy as funny, robust, sly and “a sneak.”
MS: Being a kid is hard, but if they’re smart and clever and determined and egocentric, they will survive.

SSM: But Bumble’s not a bad character.
MS: No, he’s not a bad character. He’s a regular mischievous little boy. And he wants a birthday party come hell or high water. It doesn’t matter that his parents are dead and eaten, that’s too bad but, you know, if they had been smarter parents they would have stayed alive. So it’s that kind of selfishness, sweetness, and liveliness that makes a child a content child, and he should be composed of all the varieties of moods and sensations.

SSM: Why does Bumble’s aunt go from being sweet, to scary, to sweet again? Is that how kids see adults?
MS: I think most kids see adults as being erratic and a little nonsensical. That’s how I viewed my parents. You don’t know why they do this or that. You just see it. Kids have to wend their way through all these blistering things that happen to all of us, and they have to make up answers for them.
SSM: When my daughter was six, my husband was in a scary situation. She said: “If Daddy dies, I’m going to bring his body in for show and tell.”
MS: (laughs) You have to give children the benefit of their ability to get through hardships. Your daughter’s way is marvellous, but it doesn’t show what she really would have felt. Bumble-Ardy doesn’t say a word about his parents’ death. All he does is cry out for his birthday. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t remember them.

SSM: I suspect if I asked you how you know kids so well you’d answer that you have such a vivid memory of being a child yourself.
MS: Yes, and also my observation of other people’s children. I wouldn’t, on a bet, ever have had children. It’s even harder than puppies. It’s too hard. And thank God as an artist it was not a requirement, because I fully, really believe people who are artists should not have children. They should devote their lives to their work, which is what the world needs desperately, and there are many, many others who can have the children.

SSM: Do you expect girl readers to see themselves in Bumble-Ardy?
MS: Absolutely. Absolutely, girls are just as wild. But you know, nothing has changed. I’ve done many books where the heroines or the heroes were girls, and the critics just went by that. They didn’t realize I was allowing girls to be tough and rude and angry and ambitious and everything I made my little boys. I’ve always felt that. But the world persists in putting girls in second place. It will not, and has not been, accepted that girls do the same thing, and that’s too bad.

SSM: The monsters in Where the Wild Things Are were your relatives. Who are the nine pigs in Bumble-Ardy?
MS: There is a sentimental moment where pigs are in tiger costumes. That was based on a true story of a tiger whose three babies died. She went into a colossal depression. A farmer put the babies’ skins on three pigs, then offered the pigs to the mother. She jumped for joy. She completely bought the farce, and she raised the pigs as her own. I memorialized them in Bumble-Ardy, which was done at a time when people in my life were dying. Working on the book made me happy.

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