The spilling of much ink has been occasioned by the death of the wonderful Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen, among dozens of other treasures. (I was in the dentist chair when I heard the news on the radio. “Oh, is it sensitive there?” the hygienist asked, hacking away at my teeth, when I winced at the news.)
I am sad for this loss. Sendak was that rare entity, an honest writer for young children. I consider him a direct descendant of the Brothers Grimm, with their young characters at risk of being boiled alive by witches and such. Wild Things especially occupies a key place in my psyche.
But I don’t know that I can add much to the general outpouring of appreciation and analysis. Instead, I want to share another classic that really captured my young imagination: Crockett Johnson’s 1955 flight of fancy Harold and the Purple Crayon.
The plot: Harold, a 4-year-old boy in pajamas, finds he has the power to create worlds with a simple purple crayon. Here’s a plot summary from the Web site GoodReads.com: “ ‘One night, after thinking it over for some time, Harold decided to go for a walk in the moonlight.’ So begins this gentle story that shows just how far your imagination can take you. Armed only with an oversized purple crayon, young Harold draws himself a landscape full of beauty and excitement. But this is no hare-brained, impulsive flight of fantasy. Cherubic, round-headed Harold conducts his adventure with the utmost prudence, letting his imagination run free, but keeping his wits about him all the while. He takes the necessary purple-crayon precautions: drawing landmarks to ensure he won’t get lost; sketching a boat when he finds himself in deep water; and creating a purple pie picnic when he feels the first pangs of hunger.”
What I love is that Harold is unconstrained by anything but his imagination, and it takes him on a journey. And as much of a word guy as I am, it’s an almost completely visual fantasy that draws you right in.
If you’re attached to a child, or just want to rediscover a kind of fantasy that simple enough to be limitless, I recommend it.