“Upstairs at the White House”

The South Portico with the Truman Balcony

The South Portico with the Truman Balcony

Amazon has apparently recognized that some of my reading tastes have slanted toward history and politics, so when Upstairs at the White House came up as a recommendation, I decided to give it a try.

Written by J.D. West, who spent 28 years as an usher and then the chief usher of the White House, it is a charming collection of stories and observations of the First Ladies who occupied the President’s House during West’s tenure.  With so many biographies relishing revelations of scandal, I appreciated that West was able to emphasize the strengths and talents of each of the First Ladies and respect the differences among them without ever describing them negatively.

Each First Lady had a distinctive managerial style.  Eleanor Roosevelt traveled extensively, met with people and entertained a large group nightly and needed to manage all of those logistics.  Bess Truman was part of the closely knit trio of Harry, Bess, and their daughter, Margaret, and managed with the thriftiness of a Midwestern housewife.  Maisie Eisenhower, as the wife of a general, was accustomed to handling a large complex household, so she had a regular morning meeting with the staff, which she handled while sitting in her pink bed.  Jackie Kennedy was highly organized but more informal, so instructions from her tended to come on the fly.  She was soft-spoken so you had to listen closely to her, but ultimately the staff learned that, “Do you think it would be possible…” from Mrs. Kennedy carried the same weight as, “I want you to do this now” from Mrs. Eisenhower.  Lady Bird Johnson prioritized herself far behind her family, particularly her Texan husband who strode around the halls and shouted through the rooms as though he was still occupying the wide expanses of his home state.  With each new First Lady, the White House staff adjusted to her and she adjusted to them.  The key to continuity for the staff was loyalty to the White House rather than to a particular family.

Perhaps because I knew little of the Trumans, I was particularly intrigued by some of their stories.  When the Trumans arrived after the death of FDR, the idea that the President and First Lady actually shared the same bedroom created quite a stir among the staff.  That the Trumans enjoyed a close relationship was certainly obvious when a rather embarrassed Mrs. Truman had to ask to have the President’s bed fixed after two slats broke in the middle of the night.

The Trumans and Margaret liked to take meals under the south portico facing the Washington Monument.  The area was shaded by awnings, which regularly needed to be cleaned, so President Truman proposed a new balcony on the second floor that would provide an excellent view while also eliminating the need for the awnings.  In spite of his growing disfavor with Congress, who held the purse strings, Truman managed to push the project through.  After the balcony was completed, however, the Trumans realized that the space was extremely public and visible to the growing number of tourists who passed by for a picture.  Thus other than using the balcony to watch the odd baseball game played on the Ellipse, the Trumans went back to their first floor dining habits.

Sometime after the balcony was completed, Mrs. Truman was entertaining the DAR in the large oval Blue Room, which is in the center of the second floor.  She suddenly heard the tinkle of glass, and she realized that the large chandelier overhead was swaying, clinking the crystals together.  She sent for Mr. West, who investigated, and discovered that the source of the vibration had been the large head butler merely walking across the floor of the room overhead to fetch a book for the President who was taking a bath.  Further investigation revealed that the whole White House interior was structurally unsound, and the President had been fortunate that the ceiling didn’t give way and drop him and his bathtub into the laps of the DAR ladies below.

While the Trumans were away on their successful campaign for re-election, a thorough study of the White House was carried out, and it showed that the interior walls were built on soft clay footings rather than solid rock, that doors built into interior walls had further weakened the structure, and then three sets of plumbing, multiple revisions to the electrical wiring, and even large mounds of sawdust left in the walls during construction had turned the structure into a fire trap.  The bathtub did indeed start to sink through the floor, as did one leg of Margaret’s piano.  The only part of the house that seemed to be structurally sound was the new balcony!

The Trumans thus moved into Blair House across the street for the duration of the necessary renovations, and during that time they had one close call with a pair of assassins who tried to shoot their way into the White House to kill the President.  Had the gunmen arrived a mere half an hour later, President Truman would have been coming down the front stairs in full view of the front door.  It was this incident that marked the beginning of significantly increased security around the President.

In West’s 28 year career, there were only five transitions among Presidents.  He started when FDR was President, and he left a mere six weeks after the Nixons arrived.  Because both Roosevelt and Kennedy died in office, there were only three times that West experienced the tightly choreographed transition between families that occurs on Inauguration Day.  The belongings of the new First Family are not allowed to enter the White House until the incoming President takes the oath of office at noon, and then it is a highly orchestrated maneuver to arrange and unpack all of the possessions in the two hours before the family arrives to take up residence.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book, in part because having been to the White House, I could envision many of the rooms that they discussed, and I could imagine the changes described, such as the addition of a stage to the East Room for performances under the Eisenhowers.  A good read with delightful stories and (almost) no snark.



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A Little Free Time in DC


A recent meeting took me to DC for a few days, and because I took the train down the night before, I had a little free time to spend.  Thus I found at least one answer to the question of what a former Fellow does when returning to her Capital roots.

Even the trip down to Washington felt like a return to my fellowship year since I took Amtrak. It was a delight to arrive at the station a mere 15 minutes before my scheduled departure, park for free, and not deal with security, taking off shoes, checking a bag, or any of the hassles of flying.  I simply hopped on the train, plugged in my laptop and settled in for a long comfortable uninterrupted time for getting caught up on work.

The best way to travel

The best way to travel

I arrived in Union Station around 10 PM.  As a former DC native, I knew that it was actually much faster to take the Metro to my hotel than to wait in line for a taxi.  Having a pre-charged metro pass made the process even easier.  I chuckled at the nostalgia I experienced on the way as I passed the familiar stations:  “Judiciary Square- where the National Building Museum is.  Gallery Place/Chinatown where the National Portrait Gallery is.  Metro Center for shopping and shows.”  When I left back in August, I had expanded my bucket list multiple times, and there weren’t many if any experiences I felt I had missed.  I realized upon my return, however,  that I’m ready to do them all over again.  As one of my fellow Bennet fellows told some new folks who were complaining that they were bored, “There are 1000 things to do around here, and Laura Pence did them all!”

One of the challenges of my recent visit was that I wasn’t going to be available for any evenings to meet up with people.  I was reluctant to ask anyone to get up too early, but I should have remembered sooner that Fellow Maggie has always been up for anything.  We got together at 6:45 AM and walked the Mall through the morning fog.  We started by coming down behind the White House, and then headed off for the Lincoln Memorial.  We even found something new to do and found another early bird to take our picture with the statue of Albert Einstein.  We asked our photographer what kind of nerd he was, and he said, “I’m a pretty extreme nerd.  I’m a librarian.”  Maggie and I agreed later that we weren’t sure that a librarian really stacks up as an extreme nerd against a chemist and a chemical engineer, but we weren’t about to burst his bubble.

By the time we had walked from the Lincoln Memorial all the way up to the Capitol, we were somewhat caught up with each other’s latest adventures, and Maggie had to go to work.  I went into the Russell Senate Office Building, where I used to work, and managed to navigate security at the entrance for non-Senate staff.  The visitors who don’t go through security daily almost all needed two tries to get through the metal detector.  I remained patient, and I was rewarded by getting a quick hug from the security guard after I got through (without setting off the metal detector, of course!)  After a little shopping in the Senate Gift Shop, I spent some brief time with my former co-workers.  It was a real pleasure to see them, and I do miss all the action of that office.

One of the main things I miss most about no longer being a Fellow is my Senate ID badge.  While I was on staff, I made a point of wandering through the Capitol as often as I could, and I no longer have that privilege.  My fellow Bennet Fellow helped me work around that limitation, and she corralled one of the interns to escort me through the tunnels to the Capitol.  I was pleased that the Senate train was there to pick us up since I still enjoy the nostalgia of catching that ride.


Once in the Capitol, I easily navigated myself over to the Library of Congress where I used my Reader Card to gain access to the Main Reading Room.  When I had told my upperclassmen that I was cancelling class for a meeting in DC, they were very impressed with my importance.  I figured it would be appropriate to add luster to that reputation by grading inorganic problem sets in the Library of Congress.  I did actually grade for a little while, but then I just looked around and soaked up the atmosphere and joy of being in such a beautiful space that not only has lovely architecture, but is also full of books!

I missed the peak of the cherry blossoms by only a few days, and it seemed that all of the flowering trees came into full bloom just over the course of a single day.  I took a few pictures so that my friends and family from the chilly north would be assured that spring really is on the way.

The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court

My morning walk made sitting in a meeting all day easier to take, so the following morning, I decided to squeeze in another expedition to the Mall.  In contrast with the fog from the day before, it was clear skies, and it was a treat to watch the sun rise over the monuments.  The scaffolding is finally down from the Washington Monument, and since it has been closed since the 2011 earthquake, I’m wondering if it will be possible to go up again soon.  It looks like I’ve restarted my DC bucket list after all.

IMG_0768 IMG_0771

The best way to travel!

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Colin Powell

For some years, now, I have taken advantage of the long trips to American Chemical Society meetings to try to plow through one of the jumbo-sized nonfiction books on my To Be Read shelf.  Having developed a taste for biographies of political personalities, Colin Powell’s autobiography seemed like a good choice for my recent trip to Dallas.


Unlike many nonfiction books that I slogged through last year mostly because 1) I was a captive audience on my Metro commutes and 2) I know better than to take fiction to work since sometimes I can’t stop reading, My American Journey was a real pleasure to read.  It was neither a tell-all nor an opportunity to name drop.  Indeed Colin Powell’s unwritten rule seemed to be, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all,” which I respected.  I did learn to watch out for the people who were not mentioned in depth since other books I’ve read that mentioned the same person were more candid about the person’s shortcomings.

In addition to a narrative of the formative experiences of his life, the book was organized by life lessons.  For many years, Gen. Powell kept a list of rules on the surface of his desk so to remind him of the lessons he had learned over the course of his career.  His autobiography told many of the stories that accompanied either his learning or his using these lessons.

For example, he was stationed in Korea long after the war there ended as part of a deterrent force to make sure the region did not heat up again.  Since it was anticipated that eventually all of those troops would be coming home, there was not a lot of investment in infrastructure, and those troops had far from the best of everything.  The Commanding Officer, “Gunfighter” Emerson was determined to keep morale up.  Because conventional sports could only occupy a small fraction of the troops, Gunfighter devised new sports such as Combat Football, which involved 50 men on each side and two footballs.  There were almost no rules, much to the unhappiness of the medics who patched up enough injuries for a small battle after each event.

Gunfighter also decided that since wars are not fought on a 9-5 schedule, he regularly overturned the troops’ days so that for a week at a time, the troops would sleep days and train nights.  At the end of one of these flipped training weeks, Powell’s group was returning from an arduous training exercise and arrived at the point where they were supposed to pick up their buses only to find that there weren’t enough buses for everyone, leaving them with a 12+ mile hike home.  As they reluctantly and tiredly started off, one of Powell’s officers came up to him and said that the trek home could be used at the final qualification many of the men needed to get their Expert Infantryman Badge since Powell had been pushing them to get qualified and they only needed a 12 mile hike in under three hours.  Powell was skeptical, but he abided by the rule, “Never step on enthusiasm.”  Word went around the group of the plan, and the pace picked up as everyone was determined to accomplish the goal.  When they arrived back in came at about 4 AM, they broke into parade ground formation.  They marched passed the CO’s house, where the CO was on hand to inspect the troops and salute in his bathrobe.  Powell’s unit ended up with more Expert Infantryman Badges than the other two units combined.

Powell’s perspective on racism was remarkably free of bitterness.  In spite of being stationed in Alabama early in his career, where once he was off base, he could not buy a drink to quench his thirst, something to eat, or use a rest room, he focused on the army’s inclusive culture where he was treated just like any other soldier.  Powell obviously dealt with a fair number of challenges because of his race, but he always tried to find some positive aspect to share.

One practice that did annoy Powell throughout his career was what he called, “breaking starch.”  This term was derived from the soldiers’ practice of heavily starching their trousers to look good for inspections.  Unfortunately, the pants became so stiff that the men would beat them with a broom handle to get them flexible enough to put on.  Thereafter, Powell was constantly on the lookout for examples of habits that had formed because they looked good rather than because they were useful or productive.

One last lesson that I wish I had learned two years ago was, “Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.”  On one of my fellowship interviews, I was asked to make a recommendation and then was immediately asked what would be my response if I was specifically prohibited from going forward with that recommendation.  Well, the topic was climate change, and I was advocating for adaptation.  I knew how important adaptation was going to be, and I just couldn’t let go of the importance of that suggestion.  That was the one fellowship for which I was not a finalist because indeed, my ego was far too invested in my position.  In my interview for my second fellowship, I got effectively the same question, and because I was less invested in my recommendation, it was far easier for me to say, “Well, this might not be the right time, or it might not be possible to include my recommendation this time.”  I was a finalist for that fellowship.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book and would recommend it.  To close, I’ll share

Colin Powell’s Rules

  1.        It ain’t as bad as you think.  It will look better in the morning
  2.       Get mad, then get over it.
  3.       Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when you position falls, your ego goes with it.
  4.       It can be done!
  5.       Be careful what you choose.  You may get it.
  6.       Don’t let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision.
  7.       You can’t make someone else’s choices.  You shouldn’t let someone else make yours.
  8.       Check small things
  9.       Share credit
  10.   Remain calm.  Be kind.
  11.   Have a vision.  Be demanding
  12.   Don’t take counsel of your fears or naysayers.
  13.   Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier



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“Trashed” the movie

For some years now, the Committee on Environmental Improvement (CEI) of the American Chemical Society (ACS) has sponsored an environmental documentary at many of the national meetings.  Often it has been possible to bring the filmmaker in for the event to do Q&A with the audience afterwards, but recently this wasn’t possible.  I was asked to be part of a panel discussion afterwards, and although I was not able to prepare much, I hoped that I would be able to wing it smoothly.

Trashed (not “Wasted” as it was accidentally identified by the organizer in our committee meeting at one point,) explores the environmental impacts of waste disposal.  Historically, most of human waste was organic matter and was biodegradable, so it could be buried and it would subsequently rot and decompose.  It did not disrupt nature’s cycle of building up (making living things) and breaking down (dispersing dead things.)  Now with so many plastics, the waste no longer breaks down, and it accumulates.

The problems of simply dumping trash are obvious, especially when looking at the shores of Lebanon, where mountains of trash wash into the water and from there onto shores throughout the Mediterranean Sea.  Dumped trash ending up in the water is a global issue, and there are fables telling of “islands” of trash centering in the five enormous gyres of circular ocean currents. (Gyre was a new word for me, so I had to make sure I used it in this post.)  The movie explained that this trash is not composed of bottles and boxes, but it is rather more like plastic confetti as trash is shredded but not decomposed.  These plastic fragments then attract other chemicals, thus providing a new method of concentration and transportation for pesticides, wastes, and by-products.

Trash on the shores of Lebanon

Trash on the shores of Lebanon

Landfills are an improvement over dumping, but even the best managed landfills may leach undesired substances from our chemically more complex waste.  Many landfills are also reaching their allowed capacity, demonstrating that this method of disposal is not an endless resource.  Incinerating trash reduces the need for landfill space, but the movie pointed out that incinerators may produce toxic by-products of combustion, such as dioxin, and the ash from these incinerators generally includes a relatively high concentration of heavy metals.

Finding ways to increase recycling is thus becoming ever more urgent, although the reducing and reusing strategies are actually even more efficient.  I was particularly intrigued by one vignette in which a woman frequented a a grocery store that sells only bulk products without any packaging.  Customers bring not only their own bags but also their own containers for items such as flour, sugar, and cereal.  The woman explained that by using this store and being very careful of what they bought, her family of three generated a single grocery bag of trash for an entire year.  Everything else was recycled, reused or composted.  That sounded amazing.

The discussion after the movie went well.  The audience was mostly undergraduate students, although the first several people who commented were adults who seemed to want to use the event as an opportunity to lecture and to convey their own attitudes.  Acutely aware that the students’ focus was wandering and the energy in the room was falling, I turned the discussion back to the students and asked what one thing they might do to respond to the film after their went home.  The issue of reuse came up, and two students proudly held up Mason jars containing a brown liquid.  I suggested I wasn’t sure if I should ask about the identity of the contents, but they laughed and said it was the iced tea we had for lunch.  I held up my own refillable bottle and invited everyone else who had a refillable bottle to do the same, so it was a bonding experience for some of us.

I couldn’t be sure how much the movie was showcasing typical issues with trash disposal and how much they were taking advantage of particularly bad examples.  Certainly the filmmakers understood that the illustrating the plight of animals was a particularly effective method of communicating the need to change our habits.  I, myself, was not immune to the pictures and lists of all the trash that has been found in the stomach of a single dead bird or a single dead beached whale.

Trash in the stomach of a bird

Trash in the stomach of a bird

My personal take home image was the plastic confetti that is present in virtually any part of the ocean.  My own small change to make has been to bring my breakfast bagel to school in a washable plastic container rather than in a plastic bag.  I hope that all the audience members were equally motivated to make at least one change in their own habits.

Anyone who is interested in learning more or in buying a movie can find information at trashedmovie.com

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Education and Mobile Devices

I spent my last morning of the recent American Chemical Society meeting in a chemical education symposium on using mobile devices in the classroom.  Not coincidentally, my father was speaking in the session, and aside from supporting family, I find Dad always has something interesting to say.

There was a gratifying audience present prior to the 8:30 AM start of the first talk, and Dad blandly threw out the grenade that according to the policies of the sponsoring society, audience members were not to take any photographs or videos or use any other electronic recording method during the presentations.  As Dad no doubt expected, this announcement sparked a spirited discussion among audience members who were actively encouraging students to use technology to enhance their learning experiences.  I’ve observed that when my own students want a copy of a question I’ve written down on paper or on the board for several, they just take a photo with their smart phones.  Several students who were out sick and missed class have submitted smart phone photos of their homework to make sure that I received it on time.  I think it’s a great habit, and I was aware that I’ve picked up that quick note capture habit.  Earlier in the week, I was quite frustrated in one talk that was rather data intensive, I wasn’t able to take notes quickly enough to capture all the information, but I was not allowed to take a photo and solve the problem quickly and easily.

Before Dad’s talk began, he requested that I keep time for him to ensure that he wouldn’t run over.  Of course, each time I signaled him, he made a comment about me or about needing to talk faster.  When in spite of being out of time he decided to take a third question at the end of his presentation, I made a choking sign, which one other presenter thought was excessive.  I felt that since I didn’t stand up and do chicken squawking imitations, I was still within the bounds of the acceptable.  Besides, I know that sometimes speakers require strong handling, and I learned these skills from Dad himself.

One interesting detail that I got out of Dad’s talk was that that students use mobile devices (laptop, cell phone, tablet) to access content and virtually never use a desktop computer. Even further, students generally use a combination of devices rather than relying on a single communication mode.  I was already keeping time via my cell phone, and I immediately couldn’t decide if it was extremely appropriate or quite inappropriate to get out my iPad to look at the pdf of the symposium schedule so I could stop Dad at the appropriate time.  I eventually went for the double device strategy and figured I was bonding with the students.

Those of you who have read Ender’s Game will recall Ender working on an electronic “desk” that provided him with lessons and served as a communication device.  Listening to all the talks suggested to me that what was a novel idea in the book has nearly become reality.  We just don’t quite know how to integrate everything together yet.  I saw how students who use exclusively an electronic textbook earn grades comparable to students who buy hardcopy (although honors students seem to be particular holdouts for “real” books.)  I learned that students who use iPads to video their experiments in laboratory write much more detailed observations in their reports.  As “flipped” classes, sections in which lecture is taught via a series of short videos prior to class so that lecture time may focus more on problem solving, become more ubiquitous, I started to wonder if my students who search YouTube for videos illustrating problem solving are starting to adapt to that new format and instinctively search for video help rather than reading the book.  Some of the chemical modeling programs that are now being used routinely in class were outstanding reminders that a picture can be worth a thousand words.  I wish I had had these ideas a few weeks ago for my Inorganic chemistry students.  I also have a long list of apps that have been used effectively in various classes, and now I want to try them all!

I was only able to stay for a handful of talks, but my notebook (yes, a physical notebook- old habits from the Senate die hard) was full of arrows and flags identifying great ideas and ways that I might incorporate some of the ideas into my own courses.  I’m not sure if coming to a meeting is more exhausting or if it is more tiring to try to work through all the great ideas I get and have to triage to figure out what is actually possible.  I was disappointed that I couldn’t stay for more of the talks, but my list of Things To Do thinks it may have been for the best.


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The Illogical Issue of Water Conservation

One of the most active parts of my portfolio last year was water, which is an important if contentious issue in Colorado.  As I was getting started, my LA warned me to be very careful because it is very easy to mess up water issues in the West.  Often it is better to do nothing than to do the wrong thing.  As I learned more about the specifics of water supply, I ran into several glaring and unexpected contradictions which appear counter to all logic but make sense upon further examination.

In the Middle East, a history of water scarcity has taught all the people to be very careful with the water that they use.  In the Middle East, farmers use drip irrigation, which delivers water directly to the root of a plant and minimizes waste.  In contrast, Americans have had the benefit of numerous federally-funded projects to move water from one place to another, often providing the resource at well below the real cost.  An aerial view of the Midwest and West in the US reveals circles of green created by the center-pivot irrigation systems that spray water up into the air, wasting much of it through evaporation.  Logically, it seemed to me that if American farmers adopted the more efficient irrigation systems of the Middle East, it would result in saving water, right?

Garden City, KS

Garden City, KS.  Each circle is an irrigated plot

Actually no, providing help for American farmers to adopt less wasteful irrigation systems tends to keep the water use the same.  I couldn’t fathom how that would work until it was explained to me that the more efficient irrigation allows farmers to grow more water-intensive crops such as berries and nuts that return much higher profits than less water-intensive crops such as grains.  All those good intentions may not produce the planned results.

The West has experienced a number of extremely severe droughts in the recent past; Colorado was in severe drought during 2012 and 2013, and now it is California who is looking at severely depleted reservoirs.  I figured those experiences would encourage farmers to conserve and to use less water so there would be enough water for everyone.  Here again, there were other factors at work which make the reduction in water use less favorable.  Farmers rarely have the opportunity to build up any kind of retirement savings or 401(k) accounts.  Many of them feel that the one option they have to create a nest egg is to sell their water rights when they decide to stop farming.  Thus to maximize the value of that asset, they need to continue to pump their full allocation of water, regardless of the drought issue.  That is completely understandable and logical, but it certainly limits the ability to make progress in the area of water conservation.

When I’ve traveled in the Southwest, I’ve cringed every time I drove by a golf course or green lawn because they represented to me a non-native environment and a waste of water.  I gained a different perspective on those structures recently when I read, A Ditch in Time, which is the story of the development and evolution of Denver Water, the company that provides water to Colorado’s capital and some of the surrounding communities.  For Denver Water, those expanses of green represent a reservoir.  If all the water that the company supplies is being used efficiently for agriculture, industry, and domestic applications, then they can obviously support more users.  The challenge occurs in times of drought.  If all the normal water is being used efficiently, then there is no place to conserve water.  Denver Water can require residents to limit the frequency of watering that green lawn, and although there is complaining, there are no dire consequences.  If all of the water is going to vital uses, there is little flexibility for reducing consumption when resources dwindle.  I’m not sure I’ll ever be really happy to see those green lawns, but now that I know that they serve some purpose, perhaps I’ll grumble less.

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Maurice Sendak Exhibit at the New Britain Museum of Art

My sister, Heather, visited me recently, and as part of a weekend to combat the wintertime blues, we decided to go to the New Britain Museum of Art and see the Maurice Sendak exhibit that is showing until early February.  Generations of children will associate Sendak most strongly with Where the Wild Things Are, but I was enchanted to discover that he had illustrated a number of other books I loved when I was young.

The exhibit informed us that prior to Where the Wild Things Are, children’s books were always happy and safe, the way adults wished childhood to be.  Sendak, who was both Polish and Jewish, had been strongly affected by the deaths of so many people including members of his extended family in the Holocaust as well as the untimely death of a friend during his childhood, and Where the Wild Things Are was the first to bring a darker tone to children’s books, in part because he knew that children could handle it.

The original title of the book was, Where the Wild Horses Are, but it rapidly became apparent that Sendak couldn’t draw horses.  He eventually settled on “things,” which were actually all loosely based on his relatives who all gathered upon the death of a family member.  Once I knew that, I could absolutely see that each “thing” was indeed a child’s interpretation of the various quirks of his family.

Sendak was a reluctant student in his youth.  He and his 10th grade teacher came up with a deal that he wouldn’t have to produce the same kind of reports that his peers did as long as he drew his reports instead.  Thus the exhibit included ten intricately drawn panels that comprised his report on Macbeth.  I gave a lot of credit to his teacher who was willing to accept this unusual work product from a student long before such variations in learning were commonly accepted.  It was apparent even from those early drawings that Sendak was a gifted artist.

One of my favorite parts of the exhibition was a wall displaying a chronology of the many books he had written or illustrated over many decades.  Heather immediately noticed the Little Bear series, which had been one of her favorites.  Having been steeped in his drawing style throughout the exhibit, I had suspected that Sendak had illustrated two of my favorite childhood books, “What Do You Do, Dear?” and “What Do You Say, Dear?”  Both books featured vignettes of the main characters being placed in outrageous situations such as reading a book in a library and being lassoed by a cowboy.  The response to “What do you do, dear?” was always dictated by good manners, in this case leaving the library quietly.

Throughout his life, Sendak would try to reply to the many children who wrote to him, and often he would sketch one of the characters from Where the Wild Things Are.  Heather told me a story, that we subsequently found retold on one of the panels that Sendak’s favorite letter came from a mother who wrote that her son liked Sendak’s reply so much that he ate it.  That was the highest compliment that Sendak could imagine; rather than selling the sketch for a profit, the young boy saw it, liked it, and ate it.

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