I was six years old when I first saw the book.
My surroundings are what I imprint upon. I was on the floor which had your standard issue industrial school carpeting. The cubbies were to my left and formed the wall that ran the length of the room. The bathrooms were behind me.
The teacher whose name could have been Mrs Walker (?) was sitting on a blue chair in front of us.
Now, books and I have always been friends. There are pictures of a sleeping three year old Dawn, hiding in her closet with the lamp, surrounded by books. I remember being in those closets - small, dark, tight spaces of safety. Me and My Books. Later on in life when I felt stress or anxiety, diving into a book was my first reaction. My college room mate would laugh as I would bring home a massive stack of fiction to read in between studying for other exams. "They relax me", I would explain.
This book, however, was different. From the moment Mrs Walker held the book up I knew that this was special - something I maybe shouldn't be seeing - and so I held my breath throughout the reading and when she had finished, I stood up and asked if I could hold this book. I needed to absorb this book. I needed to possess this book.
In fact, the next library day found me at the librarians desk asking about where I could find this book to borrow and my first memory of ordering from a book club was my amazement seeing that this prized book was one of the ones offered and begging for the 50 cents to order it.
The book was, of course, Where the Wild Things Are.
Now, psychologically, the adult Dawn could deconstruct why the book was so important to First Grade Me. A tale of the Wild Things who were both menacing and loving - terrible and fierce and Max - the boy who tamed them with a magic trick - this tale was not so far off from my life in the world of Adults. I navigated some pretty Wild Things in my day to day life, and while this was perhaps the most stable time in my remembrance of my family life, it was still business as usual.
It was in 1976 that my father threatened to kill Santa if he came into the house on Christmas Eve. I locked the door behind him as he ran out on the porch with his loaded shotgun, looking for Santa to shoot. I had the sense to hide before my mother got the door unlocked and my father began to search the house for me.
Now, I had seen my father shoot things. Our Pet Dogs when they wouldn't stop barking. Rabbits. At the car as my mother pulled out of the driveway...with his child(ren)in the car. His unpredictable behavior made him the undisputed King of the Wild Things.
My mother, while a bit more stable in her overall demeanor, had her own role in the kingdom of my Wild Things. A role which would take center stage once my parents divorced. As long as I did as she wanted, she was a benevolent ruler in the Kingdom. Benign neglect, I have called it - feral childhood. Yes, we were fed and clothed. But there were conditions - always conditions.
My mother was not Max's mother. There would be no hot dinner waiting for me when I woke. No, more likely I would be told that I was ungrateful and didn't deserve to have dinner - but if I insisted than I could make it myself since she was not my slave and furthermore since I had the audacity to complain, I should really start saving up to buy my own food.
First Grade Dawn didn't know all of this. She only knew that there was a book that whispered to her in a way she had never experienced. It was a book that told her that it Knew Adults were not what they seemed, and revealed them for what they were. Odd monsters with feathers and fur, feet and beaks, human noses on animal faces.
The book knew that the Wild Things Roared and Gnashed and Stomped as they pleased. However, when Max saw the Wild Things he was not afraid. No. Max was in charge of the Wild Things. He was the Adult in the world of Wild Things, the voice of reason.
And Like Max, First Grade Dawn wanted to be in control, to tame her Wild Things with her magic tricks. And also like Max, First Grade Dawn wanted to go home and be someones child, somewhere where he was loved best of all. Loved Unconditionally.
It was the first time I heard a book speak to me in the secret language of the best stories. Maurice Sendak winked at me from behind the pages of the book - He knew what adults were and had hidden the truth in those pages, right in front of them. They read the pages to us, and I felt delightfully subversive as his critique of the Big People in charge of our lives was laid out in front of them.
A door was opened for me as Mrs Walker read Where the Wild Things Are to me - and 18 other children - in 1976. I sailed over and across weeks and years and a day - and have never looked back.
Thank you, Maurice. You were an adult who "got" it.