Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak has become a classic. Winner of the 1964 Caldecott Medal as the "Most Distinguished Picture Book of the Year," it was first published by HarperCollins in 1963. When the book was written, the theme of dealing with dark emotions was rare in children's literature, especially in picture book format for young children.
However, after more the 50 years, what keeps Where the Wild Things Are popular is not the impact of the book on the field of children's literature, it is the impact of the story and the illustrations on young readers. The plot of the book is based on the fantasy (and real) consequences of a little boy's mischief. One night Max dresses up in his wolf suit and does all kinds of things he shouldn't, like chasing the dog with a fork. His mother scolds him and calls him a "WILD THING!" Max is so mad he shouts back, "I'LL EAT YOU UP!" As a result, his mother sends him to his bedroom without any supper.
Max's imagination transforms his bedroom into an extraordinary setting, with a forest and an ocean and a little boat that Max sails in until he comes to a land full of "wild things." Although they look and sound very fierce, Max is able to tame them with a single glance. They all realize Max is "..the most wild thing of all" and make him their king. Max and the wild things have a fine time creating a rumpus until Max begins to want to be "…where someone loved him best of all." Max's fantasy ends when he smells his dinner. Despite the wild things' protests, Max sails back to his own room where he finds his supper waiting for him.
The Book's Appeal
This is a particularly appealing story because Max is in conflict with both his mother and his own anger. Despite the fact that he is still angry when he is sent to his room, Max does not continue his mischief. Instead, he gives free rein to his angry emotions through his fantasy, and then, comes to a decision that he will no longer let his anger separate him from those whom he loves and who love him.
Max is an engaging character. His actions, from chasing the dog to talking back to his mother are realistic. His emotions are also realistic. It's quite common for children to get angry and fantasize about what they could do if they ruled the world and then calm down and consider the consequences. Max is a child with whom most 3-6 year olds readily identify.
To Sum Up
To sum up, Where the Wild Things Are is an excellent book. What makes it such an extraordinary book is the creative imagination of both Maurice Sendak the writer and Maurice Sendak the artist. (To learn more about him, see my article The Artistry and Influence of Maurice Sendak) .The text and the artwork complement one another, moving the story along seamlessly. The transformation of Max's bedroom into a forest is a visual delight. Sendak's colored pen and ink illustrations in muted colors are both humorous and sometimes a little scary, reflecting both Max's imagination and his anger. The theme, conflict, and characters are ones with which readers of all ages can identify. I also know from personal experience that it is a book that children enjoy hearing again and again. (Publisher: HarperCollins, ISBN: 0060254920)