Sendak’s passing leaves us wanting

    My boys don’t fit in my lap anymore. One is headed to college; the other is in high school. It’s probably been about a decade since I read “In the Night Kitchen” to them, but it’s still the book I cite when asked what my favorite is.

    If there’s anything better than having your son climb up into your lap for a bedtime story, I can’t think of it. The way he flops limply back on your chest and opens the book. The way his just-bathed body gets heavier and sweeter with each book. And the way, when the “last” book closes, he spins around in your lap, looks at you straight-on with those blue eyes and pleads, “Oh, Daddy, puh-leeze, just one more last one.”

    In these situations, I usually reached for the same book: Maurice Sendak’s “In the Night Kitchen,” that crazy, gorgeous little book about a boy named Mickey, who hears a racket in the night and falls out of his bed into the night kitchen. The bakers there are busy making cake for the next morning, and Mickey gets swept up in the batter. Luckily he hops out just before the baking. Among other things, he swims through the milk and flies around in a plane made of dough.

    My boys don’t fit in my lap anymore. One is headed to college next year; the other will be a junior in high school. I can’t remember the last time either of them fell asleep with a parent’s voice in their ear.

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    That means it’s probably been about a decade since I read that magical little book. But it’s still the book I cite when asked what my favorite is.

    Now, I am not the reader my boys turned out to be. Their bedrooms are crammed with bulging bookshelves. Jacob, who often reads a book a day, is just wearing out his first Nook. Still, I’ve read my share of great books. None ever insinuated itself into my soul the way “In the Night Kitchen” did.

    Using only a few dozen words, that tiny little book conjures a thousand stories from the often-mysterious kitchen of the reader’s mind. “Milk in the batter! Milk in the Batter!”

    When my iPhone beeped this morning with a notice that Maurice Sendak finally died, Mickey immediately popped into my head. Like the boy at the end of the book, our mischievous baker had fallen back into bed, cakefree and dried, “Hum…Yum.”

    And we are left yearning for just one more last one.

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