Banned Books That Shaped America: Where the Wild Things Are

The Library of Congress created an exhibit, “Books that Shaped America,” that explores books that “have had a profound effect on American life.” Many of the books in the exhibit have been banned/challenged.  Give yourself the gift of a beautiful story and read one and them imagine what your life would be like if you were never given that gift.

Fight censorship.

Anyone who has spent any time in the Puget Sound area and knows anything about the Pacific Northwest Ballet knows that we are exceptionally fortunate to have a holiday tradition of The Nutcracker with sets designed by Maurice Sendak.  Absolutely brilliant.  I have seen the ballet more times than I can even count, but the PNB is and probably always will be my favorite, in part due to the sets.  The Mouse King alone, forget about it.

Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak, 1963

Sendak’s work is beloved by children in the generations since its publication and has captured the collective imagination. Many parents and librarians, however, did much hand-wringing over the dark and disturbing nature of the story. They also wrung their hands over the baby’s penis drawn in In the Night Kitchen.

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A young boy named Max, after dressing in his wolf costume, wreaks havoc through his household and is disciplined by being sent to his bedroom. As he feels agitation with his mother, Max’s bedroom undergoes a mysterious transformation into a jungle environment, and he winds up sailing to an island inhabited by malicious beasts known as the “Wild Things.” After successfully intimidating the creatures, Max is hailed as the king of the Wild Things and enjoys a playful romp with his subjects; however, he decides to return home, to the Wild Things’ dismay. After arriving in his bedroom, Max discovers a hot supper waiting for him.

According to Sendak, at first the book was banned in libraries and received negative reviews. It took about two years for librarians and teachers to realize that children were flocking to the book, checking it out over and over again, and for critics to relax their views.  Since then, it has received high critical acclaim. Francis Spufford suggests that the book is “one of the very few picture books to make an entirely deliberate and beautiful use of the psychoanalytic story of anger”. Mary Pols of Time magazine wrote that “[w]hat makes Sendak’s book so compelling is its grounding effect: Max has a tantrum and in a flight of fancy visits his wild side, but he is pulled back by a belief in parental love to a supper ‘still hot,’ balancing the seesaw of fear and comfort.” New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis noted that “there are different ways to read the wild things, through a Freudian or colonialist prism, and probably as many ways to ruin this delicate story of a solitary child liberated by his imagination.”  In Selma G. Lanes’s book The Art of Maurice Sendak, Sendak discusses Where the Wild Things Are along with his other books In the Night Kitchen and Outside Over There as a sort of trilogy centered on children’s growth, survival, change and fury.  He indicated that the three books are “all variations on the same theme: how children master various feelings – danger, boredom, fear, frustration, jealousy – and manage to come to grips with the realities of their lives.”

Christopher Walken reads beloved Children’s book “Where the Wild Things Are” but has to improvise as it is mostly pictures.

Fight all forms of censorship.
Fight all forms of censorship.

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