Lyn Gardner admires Maurice Sendak’s profound picture book Where the Wild Things Are.
Even if you live to be 100, you are never too old for picture books. Particularly not one as profound as Maurice Sendak’s 1963 story about Max, the small boy banished to his bedroom by his mother for being ‘a wild thing.’ Max transforms his rage into an imaginative adventure sailing to an island in the mind where he encounters the wild thing monsters before returning to the safety of home and the smell of tea.
I didn’t actually read Sendak’s book until long after I was grown up but as soon as I did I recognized Max’s anger from my own childhood: that feeling that your rage could obliterate the world and the fear of the devastation you might wreak with it.
Apparently the book was not published in the UK until 1967 because it was thought too scary. That’s to misunderstand it. It’s a comforting story because it’s so psychologically acute, acknowledging that we all sometimes act like monsters, whatever our age.
The genius of Sendak’s illustrations is that for all the grotesqueness of the wild things, they are endearing and loveable too. Like a naughty toddler. Sendak acknowledges their power but defuses their capacity to hurt or terrify us. It’s a book that unfrightens us. That’s a real gift.
Where the Wild Things Are (978-0-0994-0839-0) by Maurice Sendak is published by Red Fox, £6.99
Lyn Gardner’s new book, Rose Campion and the Curse of the Doomstone is published by Nosy Crow, £6.99