Maurice Sendak felt writing childrens books was akin to guerilla warfare. He chose to use a ‘modest form’ the children’s picture book and explore the entire range of emotions within that framework. After ten years of drawing for many, many writers Sendak set out to do his first picture book originally titled Where the Horses Are. His complete inability to draw horses made his editor, the passionate and brilliant Ursula Nordstrom gnash her teeth.
Sendak then remembered his Jewish relatives who knew no English, were unkempt who would pinch his cheeks and say ‘I can eat you’. He recalls how his brother, sister and he were embarassed by them and their rather uncouth demeanour. In time they grew to know that they were so loved by these ‘Wild’ people. It is these uncles and aunts who had migrated to America leaving their homes behind that Sendak has immortalised in his book, Where the Wild Things Are.
Where the Wild Things Are is a very modern book, a total breakaway from the kind of childrens books that were being published in the 60’s. It had a rather wild and wilful child Max as it’s hero and monstrous looking characters that were half bull – half man, half -eagle and such as the rest. A mother who sends Max to bed without supper, but gives it when he came back from his adventures was too scandalous. A good mother never sent her child to sleep without food and she always carried through punishments. Sendak recounts that he was merely telling what he saw at home. He himself was naughty, and his mother was never always perfect. In fact she was quite emotional with the three children in a tiny apartment.
This shy of 200 words tale is about Max who after a day of being wild and troubling everyone is sent to bed without supper. Max fumes and tells his mother “I will eat you up”, when she calls him a ‘wild thing’. Max is not the least bit repentant and shut in his room is off on an adventure. He sails for a year to Where the Wild Things Are’, where despite a show of claws and teeth by the Wild Things, Max is undeterred. Max stares the wild things into submission. He then orders for the ‘wild rumpus’ to begin. Much wildness after Max starts to miss his home and decides to leave despite the wild things crying out
Oh please don’t go –
we’ll eat you up – we love you so! “
Max leaves for home. There he finds his supper waiting for him.
The illustrations also by Sendak can simply be termed brilliant. The hatching, rendering and shading are lessons in Art. The wild things are expressive and delightful. You will find yourself dwelling on each page, taking in the masterful pieces and showing details to young readers.
Where the Wild Things Are calls out to the animal in us, telling us that we cannot turn away from our true nature. Our young ones ignorant of how to behave properly are a reflection of the wildness in us that we must embrace every now and then.