by Maurice Sendak. (HarperCollins, 1988. ISBN 9780060254926. Order Info.) Picture Book. 48 pages. Grades PreK-12.
This classic picture book has delighted generations of children while jangling the nerves of some less intrepid adults and children. With a perfect marriage of text and illustration, Sendak propels us and Max from his home where he and his mother shout with rage at each other across time and place to where the wild things are.
In the opening scenes Max wears his wolf suit and creates havoc. His angry mother yells at him and he yells back whereupon he is sent to bed without his supper. His room is transformed into a magic forest and Max sets off in his very own boat to the land of the wild things.
Once there he tames the monsters by staring into their yellow eyes without blinking. Knowing they have met their master, they acclaim Max King of all wild things and celebrate their wildness together. When Max decides to return to where someone loves him best of all, the wild things try all their wiles to persuade him to stay, but he sails back into the warmth of his own room.
Max's world when he is "making mischief of one kind and another" is small and the picture occupies a small place on the page. As he gains supremacy and control, his world as represented by the illustrations grows bigger until the picture occupies the full page and even spreads onto the next page. The illustrations then proceed down the page until they have driven off all print by the time the "wild rumpus" starts.
Later, when Max smells good things to eat, the world grows smaller, but never gets as small as it once was. Sendak used cross-hatching with pen and ink over colored paint to create a the balance of silliness and subtlety that marks this classic.
It can truly be said that Sendak changed the look of books for young children and became an indelible part of American popular culture. When Where the Wild Things Are was published in 1963, Sendak’s monsters were often considered much too frightening for children. Today children are apt to take stuffed likenesses of these creatures to bed with them.
It's hard to realize now, looking at this classic and comparatively tame picture book, that it caused a great furor when it was published in the early 1960's. Many people were shocked to see monsters in a book for very young children. There hadn't been any, really, other than fairy tales. Other people were upset because Max does bad things and ends up having a great time. Bruno Bettleheim, an eminent psychiatrist of the time, was less worried about the monsters than he was of the treatment of Max's anger and misbehavior both of which were left unbridled and unpunished. He said that many children would be traumatized by the book. When the book got the Caldecott Award, the furor increased. Some librarians refused to buy it for their collections. Protest groups were organized by some conservative organizations. Learning about this book's history could lead to dialogues about censorship especially with older children.
Subscribe to our Free Email Newsletter.
By Carol Otis Hurst!!
In Times Past
by Carol Hurst and Rebecca Otis
Integrating US History with Literature in Grades 3-8.
Enliven your US History curriculum!
Teach US History using great kids books.
By Carol Otis Hurst!!