I wish I had read this book as a child.
Instead, I heard about this book for the first time when watching the documentary Tell Them Anything You Want, a portrait of Maurice Sendak released in 2009 (and available here from the library).
Higglety Pigglety Pop: or, There Must Be More to Life stars Jennie, a Sealyham terrier (based on Sendak’s real-life, much-beloved dog). Jennie lives in a house where she has two bowls for food and water, eyedrops, eardrops, two windows to look through, and people who love her – she has everything. But one day she decides that there must be more to life than having everything, packs her gold-buckled leather bag, and sets out to find out what it is.
She doesn’t get as far as the corner before she sees a pig with a sandwich board (giving out free sandwiches – Jennie’s favourite) advertising that the World Mother Goose Theatre is looking for a new leading lady. The problem is that the theatre requires their new lady to have experience. Seeing that, Jennie resolves to go find herself some experiences. Along the way she has encounters with a milk-delivering cat, a pancake-cooking maid, a destructive baby, and a fearsome, nurse-eating lion.
I can’t quite put my finger on what I find so poignant about this book. Maybe it’s that Jennie gave up everything she had and, even though she found some happiness, there were some things she had to leave behind for good. Maybe it’s that the role of the World Mother Goose leading lady, though it makes Jennie happy, is somewhat less meaty than it sounds. Whatever it is, some might say that I’m looking to read too much into a book aimed at eight-to eleven-year-olds. As a response, I will leave you with the following two Maurice Sendak quotes:
“I said anything I wanted because I don’t believe in children. I don’t believe in childhood. I don’t believe that there’s a demarcation. ‘Oh you mustn’t tell them that. You mustn’t tell them that.’ You tell them anything you want. Just tell them if it’s true. If it’s true you tell them.”
“There’s no such thing as fantasy unrelated to reality.”
-Kayleigh, children’s staff