With his passing, we hear and read again about his rough childhood fighting sicknesses, stuck in a room by himself, with only his imagination for company and the fear of death. His family were immigrants, just luckily avoiding the Holocaust; living with the grief that they were not able to save many of the people on his father’s side of the family. Yes, it was a childhood filled with death and the possibility of it around every corner. So it is not surprising that there is that darkness always someplace in his work, lurking and waiting.
In In the Night Kitchen, Mickey is almost baked in a cake by three heavy set individuals with Hitler mustaches. He emerges when he is put in the oven. When I first shared this book with my son, I was floored, and my belief about the sequence was confirmed when I investigated it the next day. Yes, that moment was inspired by the Holocaust.
To think parents and libraries were annoyed by the naked boy in the illustrations, there was a whole other secret message about evil they were too blind and ignorant to even see! Even in Sendaks’s childhood dreams, darkness is near. Continue reading