Today is master storyteller Maurice Sendak's birthday. Hopefully there won't be a child leaving childhood who hasn't empathised with Max when reading Where the Wild Things Are. Reading it to school children now is very different from when I first read it as a new teacher, because of the movie and the vast number of picture books available now compared to then. Today's children are spoilt for choice and much of that is thanks to Maurice Sendak and the influence he has had on subsequent illustrators and authors.
One of my most memorable afternoons as a teacher was spent with a Year 5 class that was predominantly boys who were very weak readers. I had used Aidan Chambers' Tell Me framework to initiate the discussion of the book and one of the four questions I asked was the one to do with time, 'How long did it take this story to happen?' For almost two hours the children in the class argued, revisited the illustrations, reread the text and steadfastly supported their view. There was a group of children who took the time bit literally and were convinced it was a year and a day; another group who thought it was only minutes because dinner was still hot and there were three boys who had followed the moon in the pictures and were sure that it was closer to a month. As a teacher it was extremely rewarding seeing children who had read very few books for themselves be so excited about a book that had been read to them. I had always been a strong advocate of the power of children's literature over reading scheme materials but this convinced me of the need to learn more and thus I embarked on post graduate study of children's literature.
Much has been written about Maurice Sendak. He elicits strong opinions because his books are dark and far from cutesy, but the number of stuffed toys, videos, books and DVDs about the wild things tells you that children love the story. In life as in his books, Sendak is a passionate advocate of children. He has said: