Where the Wild Things Are (1963)
by Maurice Sendak, b. 1928
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- The main point of this story is that children, in their excitement over all there is to discover, do yield to their wild side. Leaving them a wide berth and time to let off steam may be the most constructive response.
- The problem faced by the hero, Max, is that his antics have earned him a timeout. He is resentful and isolated in his room.
- The hero's way of solving the problem is to imagine a world of his own where the Wild Things have the run of the place--and he, Max, is the wildest of all. After some primal scream therapy, Max realights in his room, where he finds a comforting hot dinner waiting for him.
- The child appeal of this story is in the way Max subdues the most monstrous monsters this side of truly scary. And still he returns uscathed to a loving (if occasionally exasperated) family.
- The parent/teacher appeal derives from the powerful way the book sparks an uncensored imagination, yet keeps these fantasies clearly separate from the daily world of civility and accommodation to other people's needs.
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My notes while reading the book
- The book is divided into three parts, each assigning different emphasis and roles to text and images: harsh words and domesticity assailed; purely visual ecstasy of adventure (wild rumpus); return to words (now soothing) and domestic tranquillity.
- Sendak himself prefers In the Night Kitchen as going "much more beneath the surface of things" (The Art of Maurice Sendak, p.189).
Maybe so, but if its emotional core is relatively shallow (appropriately matching the passing squall in the hero's life), Where the Wild Things Are remains an impeccably structured example of picture book art.
- Appeal to parents: helps child to see what it's like to deal with wild things, so they'll empathize (possibly) with harried parents.
- When the wild things make Max their king, there is a crescent moon in the sky. In the following page (the start of the wild rumpus), the moon abruptly becomes full. It may be an oversight, it may just be that Sendak thought the pictures would look better this way. But the discrepancy does go well with a child's imprecise notion of time, implied both earlier and later in the book:
"...and he sailed off through night and day / and in and out of weeks / and almost over a year..."
- Manageable monsters--they are very distant.
- Empowerment after being punished--ultimately finds redemption (dinner still hot).
- Fantasy of running away--recurring theme in children's literature.
- Monsters look like the picture that Max drew (pinned to the wall in the opening scene).
- Children's love of disguises--Max, in his wolf suit, has claws as terrible as the monsters'.
- Repetition (both in text & illustrations) builds familiarity.
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Copyright 2000 by Sandro Corsi. Last modified 2000-07-13.
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