Ugly. Scary. Classic. Imaginary. Far-Fetched. Best Picture Book. Caldecott Medal Winner. Traumatizing for 3- and 4-year-old kids.
How can these diametrically opposed adjectives be used to describe Maurice Sendak’s picture book, “Where the Wild Things Are?” With over more than 19 million books in print, 10 million copies have been sold in the United States. This classic book survived harsh criticism and received some of the most prestigious awards that a book can receive.
Written in 1963 by Maurice Sendak, an American author and illustrator, this book is a 338-word, 10-sentence imaginary classic. When the book was written, feel-good books such as “Curious George” dominated the children’s book market. And while children loved this book, parents felt threatened because this book was different from most. A renowned child psychologist, Bruno Bettelheim, criticized the book and reporting that this book was psychologically damaging to young children. Additionally, words like “ugly” and “abusive” were used, as the main character was unable to control his emotions and was sent to his bedroom without his dinner. Bettelheim later recanted his criticism after admitting that he never read the book.
In the midst of the controversy, the book was banned in the U.S. south and pulled from public library shelves throughout the country in the 1960sSendak’s book won the Caldecott Medal for the best children’s picture book in 1963.
Since then, this book received numerous awards. In 2007, an online poll of teachers revealed that “Where the Wild Things Are” is on the National Education Association’s Teachers Top 100 Books list. The School Library Journal awarded it as the Top Picture Book and President Obama endorsed this book by reading it to a group of children on the White House lawn during an Easter egg roll.
With all these varying opinions, you might be wondering what this book is about. In summary, Max (a young boy) dons a wolf suit and creates havoc in his house. His mother becomes upset with him and when Max yells back, he is sent to his room without dinner. There, he transforms his room into a magical, moonlit forest surrounded by an ocean. Once in the land of the Wild Things, he becomes king and can intimidate the wild things. He eventually comes to realize why his mom sent him to his room, so he sails back home to the place he loves most: home.
What child hasn’t been in trouble and has wanted to escape the strict rules set upon him or her? Occasional conflict is a normal part of family life and happens when family members have different views. Also, Max learns that being in charge is hard work, which is a lesson we all need to learn in life.
Take time to enjoy Max’s adventures and the wild things with your child. Children love this book and enjoy activities that can be done after reading the book. Pinterest has hundreds of ideas to do with your child after reading this beloved book. Here are a few of the things to do:
- Create paper bag puppets and recreate the story.
- Make a crown and pretend to be king.
- Use paper plates, construction paper, and markers to create a wild things mask.
- Use large roll paper and create a magical world.
- Look at the moon illustrations in the book and talk about how they change throughout.
- Using craft paper, design a wild thing and stuff it with newspaper to create a 3D wild thing.
- While Maurice Sendak wrote and illustrated, he often listened to Mozart. Turn on Mozart while doing these activities.
– Lori Irwin, M.Ed., is a Parenting Program volunteer. She’s a former teacher of children with severe disabilities in reading, a consultant with a leading educational book publisher, and a mother of two adult children.