Where the Wild Things Are

CALDECOTT MEDAL WINNER – 1964

Where the Wild Things Are

by Maurice Sendak

Harper Collins, 1963

40 pp.

Age: 3+

Interests: monsters, bad behavior, adventure, travel, boats

Also by this author: Outside Over There, In the Night Kitchen, Higglety Pigglety Pop! or There Must Be More to Life

Note: The 2009 movie Where the Wild Things Are is quite brilliant but is not aimed at the same preschool audience as the book! Moving, complex, gorgeous and frightening – definitely more for grownups than youngsters.

Max acts up and is sent to his room without supper. In his imagination he goes to a land of monsters where he is crowned king and can do whatever he likes. He gets tired of it in the end and returns home… where his supper is waiting and it’s still hot.

As much as I love this book – the arresting images, the deceptively simple plot, the poetry of the words – I’ve been putting off reviewing it. It’s been written about enough, really, and it certainly doesn’t need my recommendation to ensure its continuing popularity. Along with Goodnight Moon and the Dr. Seuss canon, this is one of the books most beloved by today’s nostalgic parents.

The book is familiar to everyone, but what you may not know is that it was quite controversial in its time, as it was thought to be too scary for kids. Which seems amusing and quaint today, in light of the terrifying images that children now encounter daily on television and in movies.

I hope you’ll forgive a rather lengthy quotation, but in his Caldecott acceptance speech Sendak addressed these concerns perfectly:

I have watched children play many variations of this game [chasing and scaring each other, acting scared and running away]. They are the necessary games children must conjure up to combat an awful fact of childhood: the fact of their vulnerability to fear, anger, hate, frustration – all the emotions that are an ordinary part of their lives and that they can perceive only as ungovernable and dangerous forces. To master these forces, children turn to fantasy: that imagined world where disturbing emotional situations are solved to their satisfaction. Through fantasy, Max, the hero of my book, discharges his anger against his mother, and returns to the real world sleepy, hungry, and at peace with himself.

    Certainly we want to protect our children from new and painful experiences that are beyond their emotional comprehension and that intensify anxiety; and to a point we can prevent premature exposure to such experiences. That is obvious. But what is just as obvious – and what is too often overlooked – is the fact that from their earliest years children live on familiar terms with disrupting emotions, that fear and anxiety are an intrinsic part of their everyday lives, that they continually cope with frustration as best they can. And it is through fantasy that children achieve catharsis. It is the best means they have for taming Wild Things.

    It is my involvement with this inescapable fact of childhood – the awful vulnerability of children and their struggle to make themselves King of all Wild Things – that gives my work whatever truth and passion it may have.

… My experience suggests that the adults who are troubled by the scariness of his fantasy forget that my hero is having the time of his life and that he controls the situation with breezy aplomb. Children do watch Max. They pick up his confidence and sail through the adventure deriving, I sincerely hope, as much fun as he does. These are the children who send me their own drawings of Wild Things: monstrous, hair-raising visions; dream creatures, befanged and beclawed, towering King-Konglike over jungle islands. They make my Wild Things look like cuddly fuzzballs.

    … Where the Wild Things Are was not meant to please everybody – only children. A letter from a seven-year-old boy encourages me to think that I have reached children as I had hoped. He wrote: ‘How much does it cost to get to where the wild things are? If it is not expensive my sister and I want to spend the summer there. Please answer soon.’ I did not answer that question, for I have no doubt that sooner or later they will find their way, free of charge.

Sendak, Maurice. “Caldecott Acceptance Speech”, The Horn Book Magazine, August 1964, pp 345-351.

What else can I say? This book speaks to children more directly than almost any other. “Let the wild rumpus start!”

Related Sendak story – recent interview.

(This title at amazon.com)

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. bundleofbooks
    Feb 14, 2012 @ 08:37:28

    I love this book! I think Sendak makes the perfect point by saying “Where the Wild Things Are was not meant to please everybody – only children.” That is something adults can sometimes forget when choosing a book for story-time. Having said that, this book definitely pleases me!

    I’ve read The Wild Things by Dave Eggers which is based on the film and I didn’t enjoy it at all. I didn’t finish watching the film either. I like to remember the Max and his monster friends how they were in my imagination as a little girl!

    Reply

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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.
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