I don’t remember when I first read Where the Wild Things Are — probably not when it was first published, though I was just old enough to read. I didn’t have a copy of my own, as my parents were more Little Golden Book types. I don’t remember if I loved it at first sight or if it grew on me, but when my oldest child came along, Where the Wild Things Are became our bedtime book. No smarmy Goodnight Moon for us. Erica had the text memorized by the time she was 3 and a half, she then "read" it to me: "dae roed dair tairrible roes an nashd dair tairrible teef an roeld dair tairrible ies an shoed dair tairrible claus." We had a stuffed Wild Thing (okay, we still do). So yeah, I’m a big, big Maurice Sendak fan.
And now, opening June 3 with a First Friday Wild Rumpus, the Phoenix Public Library brings a touring exhibit – "50 Years of Sendak" — for a six-week run at Burton Barr Library, with activities planned at branches throughout the city. The exhibit has been on the road for the last three years (since the 50th anniversary of Wild Things) and is scheduled for at least another two and a half. It includes 50 pieces of Sendak art, many from private collections, and quotes from 50 influential people regarding how Sendak's work inspired them. There will be several screenings of the 2009 Spike Jonze movie, drawing workshops (that adults can attend, yay!), wild pajama nights (how many wolf suits will there be?), and more.
The 50 art pieces range from some of his earliest, including Macbeth, which Sendak illustrated as a 10th-grade homework project, through conceptual drawings and notes for the operatic version of WWTA and art for later books. Included, to my surprise, is an image titled Mickey & Me, in which Sendak depicts himself looking into and waving at a full-length mirror — to see Mickey Mouse waving back. Who knew that Sendak was a Disney aficionado and Disneyana collector?
But Wild Things are the stars of this show — more than 50 percent of the art is Wild Things, which Sendak never seemed to tire of. That's our gain, because the book he sold as his first was contracted under the title Where the Wild Horses Are. Sendak often repeated the story of how that book became what it became: After several frustrating months, his editor determined that Sendak couldn't draw horses. Pressed by her as to what he could draw, Sendak replied, "Things. I can draw things."
I cannot fathom what the trajectory of Sendak's career would have been had he successfully done the equine project. I doubt there would be much reason to celebrate the 50th anniversary of that original premise. If there were, well, I suspect that wild horses couldn’t drag me to that exhibit, but this one ... I'll eat it up I'll love it so.
"50 Years of Maurice Sendak: Where the Wild Things Are" opens at Burton Barr Library in Phoenix on Friday, June 3, with a reception from 6:30 to 8 p.m. The free exhibit remains on view through July 17. For details and events, see the Phoenix Public Library website.