Book Review: Where the Wild Things Are

WHERE THE WILD THINGS AREThis book really doesn’t need a review, does it? But it was on the Best Books list and I read it (not for the first time), and here it is.

I will admit that this was never a favorite of mine. I just didn’t get all the hype. I was so used to the illustrations by the time I was grown that even those didn’t seem that exciting. I think this may be attributed to me being a rule-follower. Even as a child, I didn’t really relate to Max and his rampant misbehavior, nor his attitude toward his parents. If I had just loosened up enough to see my own style of rebellion, perhaps I would have related more.

I did enjoy it more when I read it recently. And then I was invited to a baby shower and the invitation stipulated that we should bring a picture book in lieu of a card (as if I were going to bring a card which cost me money, anyway). I wanted to narrow my Friday shopping down, so I decided that the Babies ‘R’ Us where the expectant mother was registered might be an okay place to buy the book, too. (I had also cut too close to the deadline to order the book.) On the paperback (read: more affordable and also read: I don’t like board books) end, there were a few very classic choices, many of which would have been a good contribution to the new baby’s library. I figured someone else would get all the titles with “love” in them, like I Love You to the Moon and Back or I Love You Forever. And then there was Where the Wild Things Are, looking completely hip next to all the babyish titles with fluffy covers.

I stood there and read through the book again, and a tear formed in my eye that reappeared when the mom opened the gift at the shower and I explained myself to the room; “I want Lucy to know that no matter how she behaves, she can always come back home.” It’s still choking me up, because while this book does not enable children to never grow up or not take responsibility (which is, I agree, a current trend among twenty- and thirty-somethings), the message is in line with the parable of the prodigal son: no matter just how low a child sinks or how terrible they behave, their parents should always love them and be willing to forgive and celebrate their victories.

It really made the book a new personal favorite, when I realized this. Plus, those illustrations are really very cool.

MAURICE SENDAKMaurice Sendak also needs no introduction, but here that is, too.

Mr. Sendak was an American artist, born way back in the twenties. He was the third child of Polish-Jewish parents, and although he grew up in New York, he was profoundly affected by the death of several relatives in the Holocaust. He fell ill as a child and fell in love with books while reading all those books in bed. Then, when he saw Fantasia, he decided to become an illustrator, as well (at least according to Wikipedia).

MAURICE SENDAK POSTERHe spent the late 40s and 50s illustrating (including Little Bear), and then ventured into writing his own copy. It was Where the Wild Things Are that made him famous, but he had a long career full of bright moments, including designing the window displays for FAO Schwartz and advising for the creation of Sesame Street, as well as opera and theater set design. Where the Wild Things Are was published in 1963, which garnered him his first major award, the Caldecott Medal. He also won the Hans Christian Andersen Award, the National Book Award, and other awards.

Besides his many other projects, collaborations, collections, and illustrations, he illustrated (and sometimes wrote) the following—

LITTLE BEARAs Illustrator:

  • Little Bear, Else Holmelund Minarik
  • Mrs. Piggle Wiggle series
  • Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories
  • The Wheel on the School, Meindert DeJong
  • Library posters

As Writer and Illustrator:

  • Chicken Soup with Rice
  • Alligators All Around
  • Kenny’s Window
  • Very Far Away
  • The Sign on Rosie’s Door
  • One Was Johnny
  • PierreCHICKEN SOUP WITH RICE
  • Higglety Pigglety Pop!
  • In the Night Kitchen
  • Ten Little Rabbits
  • Some Swell Pup
  • Seven Little Monsters
  • Outside Over There
  • We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy
  • Maurice Sendak’s Christmas Mystery
  • Bumble-Ardy
  • My Brother’s Book
  • Brundibar

TV, Film and Stage

  • Really Rosie (TV and audiorecording)
  • Simple Gifts (TV)
  • Peter and the Wolf
  • Seven Little Monsters (TV)

ALLIGATORS ALL AROUNDIt seems to me that Sendak was a pioneer of children’s literature and especially illustration. What you see when browsing the picture book section of a bookstore is in large thanks to Sendak and his pushing the envelope, both in content and in illustration. I have definitely become a new fan, and I don’t think a children’s library would be complete without Where the Wild Things Are, Little Bear, Chicken Soup with Rice, One Was Johnny, and Alligators All Around, at the very least. And if you like banned books, you should grab a copy of In the Night Kitchen, as well.

_______________

THE MOVIE

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE MOVIEI was as excited as any other writer and childrens literature lover when the previews for Where the Wild Things Are hit the screens. I was probably just as disappointed as the next guy, as well, when I saw it. Taking a picture book to movie format always has to be a risk, since so very much has to be added to the beloved story. But while Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs did it with aplomb (although not relating too much to the actual book), Where the Wild Things Are came off slow and emotionally dim. Yes, it was totally amazing at the time to see all that CG hair blowing in the wind, but there was just nothing compelling or very redemptive about the story. And while the original Max is just bursting with energy and personality, the movie Max is a new level of complicated, in a depressing way. Also, children don’t seem to get it.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t watch it, but don’t’ expect too much, and don’t watch it with your kids if you expect to keep them riveted.

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