I don’t remember reading Maurice Sendak’s most famous book when I was a kid. I own a DVD copy of the film adaptation, but I’m not sure if I’ve ever watched it. So when my son and I borrowed the book from our local library a few weeks ago, I only knew it as a notable book of long standing with fun-looking monsters on the front.
Reading children’s books is interesting. Some of it can happen on autopilot, especially if it’s a book familiar to you and the child you’re reading with. Reading Where The Wild Things Are didn’t happen like that at all. A couple of times my son asked me “what’s happening now?” or “why are they doing that?”. And I had absolutely no idea. I don’t mean to say that it has a labyrinthine plot or that total non-sequiturs abound, just that it, well, glows with a sort of ‘otherness’ energy. Things just happen. It’s all the better for it.
Reading this article by Michele Kirichanskaya about Sendak gave me a better understanding of the book:
At the heart of Where the Wild Things Are lies Sendak’s heart: a boy like Max who was pulled between worlds, between his old Yiddishist Jewish immigrant heritage and the hostile, homophobic American landscape he was navigating. He embraced those who were considered “monsters” by the outside world, and in them he found his chosen family. He taught an entire generation that “wildness” need not be tamed by the artificial boundaries of society—that children like Max could simply be themselves, wild hearts and all.
See also: this from Sendak, one of my favourite quotes from any writer:
Once a little boy sent me a charming card with a little drawing on it. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters — sometimes very hastily — but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, “Dear Jim: I loved your card.” Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, “Jim loved your card so much he ate it.” That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.