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Sarah’s room


I was sorry to hear that Maurice Sendak died. I loved his books as a child, and I love reading them to my children. One of my favourites is ‘In the night kitchen’ and I am always thrilled by how tins and egg beaters become a Manhattan-style cityscape. I read this book with gusto, and I have my own tune for ‘Milk in the batter, milk in the batter, we bake cake and nothing’s the matter.’ There is no disengagement while reading – no replaying conversations I had earlier in the day, no drafting shopping lists. I perform this book, and we marvel at Mickey’s naked body, his brazen chipolata penis. We dive down to the bottom of the milk bottle with him, singing ‘I’m in the milk and the milk’s in me.’ Together we wish that we, like Mickey, had cake every morning, but instead we have porridge.

The book in the picture is not written by Maurice Sendak, but they are his illustrations. I loved it too – how could I not? Of all the rooms in all the world, the best is Sarah’s room. Of course it was Jenny that I felt more empathy for – I was the kind of child who drew on walls and who didn’t keep her room tidy.

And I too had dreams in which I flew, and I shrunk down to visit dolls’ houses, eating tiny cakes and sucking on lollypops.

I’ve been skim-reading obituaries and listening to various tributes to Maurice Sendak, and what I loved was that he fully acknowledged the horror of childhood. I was scared out of my wits for large parts of my early life. I had terrifying nightmares (one in particular when a Sendak-styled wild thing leaped out from behind the lemon tree and scooped out my back) and my mother had formidable visitors, including an artist/punk with a 30 cm blue mohawk, that prompted me to take refuge in a kitchen cupboard. I didn’t sleep without a hall light on until I was twenty. In a PBS interview, Sendak said that the wild things were inspired by his Jewish relatives, recently arrived from Poland, who smelled funny and had hairs sprouting out of their noses. He also said that ‘Where the wild things are’ started off as a book about wild horses, but he found that he couldn’t draw horses, so he made them monsters instead.

Looking at this book now, I can see that I am influenced by it – my novel has a dream sequence, and there are houses that my hero can enter only whilst asleep. Sendak has shaped the way I see the world, leaving rooms inside my head in which forests can grow.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 22/05/2012 9:19 am

    Sarah, thanks for this. I hadn’t seen ‘Sarah’s Room’ before. I like your comments about ‘no disengagement while reading’.

  2. 14/06/2012 7:58 pm

    such a wonderful post about Sendak. I loved your last sentence, that is a real tribute to the man. If you are interested in reading my thoughts about him, I posted a blog too, a little earlier in the year

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