Once Jennie had everything. She slept on a round pillow upstairs and a square pillow downstairs. She had her own comb and brush, two different bottles of pills, eyedrops, eardrops, a thermometer, and for cold weather a red wool sweater. There were two windows for her to look out of and two bowls to eat from. She even had a master who loved her.
But Jennie didn't care. In the middle of the night she packed everything in a black leather bag with gold buckles and looked out of her favorite window for the last time.
"You have everything," said the potted plant that happened to be looking out the same window.
Jennie nibbled a leaf.
"You have two windows," said the plant. "I have only one."
Jennie sighed and bit off another leaf. The plant continued.
"Two pillows, two bowls, a red wool sweater, eyedrops, eardrops, two different bottles of pills, a thermometer, and he even loves you."
"That is true," said Jennie, chewing more leaves.
"You have everything," repeated the plant.
Jennie only nodded, her mouth full of leaves.
"Then why are you leaving?"
"Because," said Jennie, snapping off the stem and blossom, "I am discontented. I want something I do not have. There must be more to life than having everything!"
The plant had nothing to say.
It had nothing left to say it with.
(This is only the text from chapter one of nine, from HIGGLETY PIGGLETY POP! or THERE MUST BE MORE TO LIFE, STORY AND PICTURES BY MAURICE SENDAK, copyright 1967. It is a children's book with 32 pages of text, 44 illustrations including the cover, 69 pages including the epilogue. Chapter 1 contains approximately 228 words, many of them 2-3 letters.) I have read fair use and copyright laws; if my use in this write-up is not appropriate, please contact me.)
I listen as my youngest grandson reads aloud from a Maurice Sendak book that was his mother's. He is nine. He loves dogs and puppies, of all sizes, shapes and colors. So this book is perfect for him, as Jennie is a small white shaggy dog, a West Highland White Terrier perhaps. My grandson's collection of stuffties, as he calls them, fills over half of his bed. He goes through different animal stages, penguins for the hockey team, ducks for two ducks we adopted, cats because we have cats, a few teddy bears, but mostly puppies and dogs. The overflow goes into dresser drawers, which he opens to show me, and tells me all of their names, as if I could forget.
He asks me what Jennie means by discontented. I stop myself from just giving him the definition. "What do you think she means?"
He closes the last drawer after taking out a tiny penguin, putting it next to his pillow on his bed, and answers, " I wish she wasn't a girl dog, but her problem was she wanted too much. She had a lot of good things right at her house and she wrecked it by eating her friend the plant and running away."
"I don't know if that's what the word means but now I have a headache from thinking too much...
Grandma, you're sort of a girl, but not really, but if Jennie was a boy dog he might have left, but he wouldn't have eaten his own friend first. His friend who just was telling him the truth. I think I have a headache 'cause I'm hungry," and he hopped down the stairs with his mismatched flannel pajamas and brown eyes.
I was certain that all of it would have been different if I had just answered his question with a definition. I would have missed that small magical window into a child's mind.