Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are
Children's book review by Steve Barancik
Max: Winner and Still Champ
I just checked today's (June 29, 2009) Amazon sales rankings. Maurice Sendak's 1964 Caldecott Medal winning Wild Things was the 153th most popular book out of the millions of books listed on Amazon.
This year's Caldecott winner, The House in the Night - a wonderful Good Night book in its own right - is ranked #1617.
There's a word for such impressively sustained popularity: wild.
So what makes Sendak's classic so timeless? Let's take a look!
For starters, there's Sendak's pitch perfect depiction of Max. He has a wild streak (what little boy doesn't?), and on this night he's dressed in a wolf suit, tormenting the family dog, and hammering things to the wall.
Chafing under parental restraint (like every child), he has a clear chip on his shoulder this evening. He is sent to his room without supper, called a "wild thing" by his mother.
In his room, imagination takes over. His walls become trees. An ocean appears, then a boat. Max finds himself transported to a land of wonder, filled with monstrous wild things.
Now the text tells us just how awful the wild things are.
They roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws.
But, the thing is, they don't look quite so terrible. And that's part of what makes Sendak's award-winning art so special.
Yes, the creatures have sharp teeth and horns. But they're a bit soft and rounded. And there's something a tad unsure of themselves in their eyes and postures.
They look like they'd like to be led. Review continues.
And fierce Max is more than willing to do the leading. He tames the wild things, and they pronounce him the wildest thing of all. They even make him their wild thing king!
Max leads them through a series of wild adventures, depicted without words. But, after awhile, Max finds himself longing for home. He wants to be loved now, not followed.
So he takes the long journey back, alone and independent, finds his way back to his room...
...and finds his supper waiting for him.
The magic of Where the Wild Things Are
I think you have to really think about what it is to be a kid to fully appreciate everything this brilliant book does right.
Sendak captures the tug of war between a desire for independence and a desire to be taken care of, then - like any great parent - he finds a way to give Max both.
He creates creatures that are just threatening enough without being the stuff of nightmares.
He grants Max dominion over the wild things, so that he can experience what it's like to be in charge...something every young child craves.
He lets Max make his own choices. The only thing forced upon him - being sent to his room - he overcomes with the power of his imagination. At all times, Max is the master of his own destiny.
Even when he returns home to be loved.
Something you may not know
Maurice Sendak intended Where the Wild Things Are to be part of a trilogy.
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