When Thinking "Nothing's the Matter" Is Necessary to Live
Aug 10, 2009
“Milk in the Batter! Milk in the Batter! We Bake Cake! And Nothing’s the Matter!" That’s the refrain of In the Night Kitchen, one of two children’s books that Yann Martel (author of The Life of Pi) sent last week to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The other one is Where the Wild Things Are, also by Maurice Sendak.
The occasion is the 61st in Martel’s continuing campaign to provide Harper with some good bedtime reading, and, not incidentally, the birth of the first child of Martel and his partner Alice Kuipers. Martel started sending books every two weeks to Harper more than two years ago when the PM appeared disraught during a ceremony that Martel was involved in. The campaign has elicited only a couple of acknowledgements from Harper's office, but much comment elsewhere about Martel's pointed cover letters in which he takes Harper and his Conservative government to task.
The books Martel has just sent are children’s classics, and I’d be surprised if the Harper household didn’t have them at one time, if they don’t still. Nevertheless, the books are an opportunity for Martel to muse about the importance of books to children. An adult whose imagination has not been stimulated in childhood is “less useful to society because incapable of coming up with the new ideas and new solutions that society needs. A skill is a narrow focus of knowledge, a single card in a deck. Creativity is the hand that plays the cards. Hence, once again, the importance of children’s literature.”
Very true. There’s also an important message in the silliness of the “Milk in the Batter” refrain. Small children also need to think that no matter how scary the moment is, everything will turn out all right.
That is clearly not true, of course. Horrible things happen, cement blocks fall from tall buildings, wars break out, crops fail. Children will learn that soon enough, but like all of us, they need to believe on one level that “nothing’s the matter” in order to go to sleep, to try new things, to love, to live.
"In the Night Kitchen" is one of Maurice Sendak's most magical and surreal book since "Where the Wild Things Are." "In the Night Kitchen" is basically about a young boy named Mickey who goes on an adventure to the Night Kitchen and meets three bakers who tried to bake him into a cake. "In the Night Kitchen" was one of the most controversial books to ever come into the world of children's books because of the images of … more
Mary Soderstrom is a Montreal-based writer of fiction and non-fiction. Her new collection of short stories, Desire Lines: Stories of Love and Geography, will be published by Oberon Press in November, … more
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