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[W]hen I was a kid, “Where the Wild Things Are” was something to be reckoned with, like the mumps. I was 4 when it was published in 1963. I was cognizant that teachers and librarians thought it was a “good” book, proved by the shiny Caldecott Medal on its cover. (A budding critic, I had a premature and probably unhealthy interest in consensus.) I don’t think my family had a copy, but I remember seeing it in what I now realize were the more cosmopolitan homes on my Northern California cul-de-sac — the book resides in my possibly ­exaggerated-for-effect memory as an early ’60s progressive totem alongside Danish modern furniture, African art and the sticky, stale-sweet smell of pipe tobacco. I was certainly aware of “Where the Wild Things Are” as something I should like, the way I have more recently felt I ought to like Tom Waits and “30 Rock.”

But once I finally got it — a convert! — I was eager to read “Where the Wild Things Are” to my own kids. Yet neither Isaac, as you know, nor his older sister, Zoe, much cared for it. I read it to them once or twice; they shrugged; the book got permanently shelved while the bindings cracked on “Go, Dog. Go!” and “The Rainbow Fish.” I’ve wondered if another reason I didn’t properly love “Where the Wild Things Are” as a kid was that anger hadn’t been freely expressed in my button-down home; perhaps I had found Sendak’s parable less liberating than off-putting or even frightening. (The latter was a common concern when the book was first published.) Conversely, yelling at one another is almost a hobby in my present home, so maybe that’s why my own kids found the book — this is all I could get out of them — “boring.” Perhaps they agreed with Publishers Weekly, which, back in 1963, dismissed Sendak’s story as “pointless and confusing.”

Obviously, many millions of children have loved “Where the Wild Things Are” — there are more than 19 million copies in print around the world — but I was struck, while conducting an extremely informal survey of a couple of dozen friends and a few professionals in the field of children’s literature, by how many said Sendak’s work had eluded their younger selves and/or their own offspring. Which kids’ books, I had wanted to know, are appreciated more in theory, or by adults, than by actual kids? I never heard a knock against Beverly Cleary and only one against Dr. Seuss. But probably half my sample group had shrugged at “Where the Wild Things Are.” “Impenetrable,” one educator and critic said. In her view, while the book was written from a child’s perspective, it had the processed feel of “something arrived at years later as a construct to understand the writer’s own anger.” Actually, I think that’s what I now like about the book, that sense of self-aware struggle — and whiff of psychoanalysis. Sendak hinted at this in a 1966 interview with the New Yorker: “It’s only after the act of writing the book that, as an adult, I can see what has happened, and talk about fantasy as catharsis, about Max acting out his anger as he fights to grow. . . . For me, the book was a personal exorcism. It went deeper into my own childhood than anything I’ve done before.”
    -ESSAY: Where the Wild Things Weren’t (BRUCE HANDY, October 8, 2009 , NY Times)
You don't exactly have to be a psychiatrist to analyze the book for which Maurice Sendak is known. Max's behavior is so appalling that his Mom calls him a "wild thing" and sends him to bed without supper. In the wake of this withdrawal of mother-love, Max confronts and tames his personal monsters, upon which he discovers that his Mom has kept his dinner warm for him. In case anyone had missed the point, Mr. Sendak revealed a couple years ago that, despite living with a male psychoanalyst for 50 years, he'd never told his parents he was gay: "All I wanted was to be straight so my parents could be happy. They never, never, never knew." Having done less well than Max in controlling the wild things, he instead stayed closeted into his 80s. Where the Wild Things Are is properly read as an aspirational, more than an autobiographical, story then.

Like most of the folks in Mr. Handy's story above, the book was never a family favorite of ours. And when I checked the Scholastic video out of the local library, I was surprised to realize that I didn't know any of the other Sendak stories included thereupon. And the kids and I could really have done without the anatomically correct and largely naked kid in the Night Kitchen. So I'm of decidedly mixed view on Gregory Maguire's encomium to Mr. Sendak's carer and art. On the one hand, it's interesting to see his other work (mostly for he first time) and to see the astonishing frequency with which he borrowed from other artists. On the other, the male penis does seem a recurring motif and it's hard to share Mr. Maguire's enthusiasm for an author/illustrator who we basically only know for a ten sentence kids book. By the time he's picking the ten Sendak illustrations he'd save if all the rest faced obliteration you'd have to think any reader will feel he's gone over the top.


(Reviewed:)

Grade: (C+)

  

Websites:

See also:

Art
Gregory Maguire Links:

    -AUTHOR SITE: GregoryMaguire.com
    -WIKIPEDIA: Gregory Maguire
    -BOOK SITE: Making Mischief (HARPER COLLINS)
    -GOOGLE BOOK: Wicked by Gregory Maguire
    -ESSAY: Call of the Wild: Gregory Maguire examines the enduring magic of Maurice Sendak's literary classic, Where The Wild Things Are. (Gregory Maguire, Out)
    -ESSAY: Loving Wicked for the 35th Time (Gregory Maguire, October 15, 2008, Broadway.com)
    -REVIEW: of BRUNDIBAR: After the opera by Hans Krasa and Adolf Hoffmeister, Retold by Tony Kushner, Illustrated by Maurice Sendak (Gregory Maguire, NY Times)
    -PROFILE: Wild About Sendak (Nicola Smith, 11/06/09, Valley News)
    -VIDEO DISCUSSION: Art and Technology (Panel with Gregory Maguire, Susan Cooper, Roger Sutton, 5/4/2005, MIT)
    -VIDEO DISCUSSION: Where the Wild Things Are: Panel Discussion (Featuring Harvard College Professor Maria Tatar, Wicked Author Gregory Maguire, and Award-winning Author John Cech, October 27, 2009, Harvard)
    -REVIEW: of THE MAGICIAN’S BOOK: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia By Laura Miller (Gregory Maguire, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of JONATHAN STRANGE & MR. NORRELL By Susanna Clarke (Gregory Maguire, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of After by Francine Prose (Gregory Maguire, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Artemis Fowl by Eion Colfer (Gregory Maguire, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of the Austere Academy by Lemony Snicket (Gregory Maguire, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling (Gregory Maguire, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman (Gregory Maguire, NY Times Book Review)
    -PROFILE: Mr. Wicked (ALEX WITCHEL, March 11, 2007, NY Times Magazine)
    -INTERVIEW: 'Wicked' deep interview with author Gregory Maguire, who'll be in Portsmouth Tuesday: Gregory Maguire reimagines classic children's stories by questioning society's views on beauty, evil, nature, nurture and — with 'A Lion Among Men' — cowardice. (Rachel Forrest, 10/18/08, seacoastonline.com)
    -PROFILE: Gregory Maguire’s Wicked Beginnings (Bev Goldberg, 7/15/09, 2009 ALA Annual Conference)
    -INTERVIEW: Gregory Maguire Steps Out from Behind the Curtain (Dave Weich, Powells.com)
    -PROFILE: 'Wicked' author Gregory Maguire returns to Oz (Jacque Wilson, 11/04/08, CNN)
    -ARTICLE: 'Wicked' author Gregory Maguire's new novel is free - take that, Walmart! (Thom Geier, 10/22/09, Entertainment Weekly)
    -ARCHIVES: Maguire, Gregory (NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Making Michief by Gregory Maguire (Michael Hill, ASSOCIATED PRESS)
    -REVIEW: of Making Mischief (Daryl Grabarek, School Library Journal)
    -REVIEW: of Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West By Gregory Maguire (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Wicked (Tony Buchsbaum, January)
    -REVIEW: of Wicked (Dr. Pat, BlogCritics)
    -REVIEW: of Son of a Witch by Gregory Maguire (Sophia Harrison, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Three Rotten Eggs by Gregory Maguire (Jim Gladstone, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of WHAT-THE-DICKENS: The Story of a Rogue Tooth Fairy By Gregory Maguire (Regina Marler, NY Times Book Review)
    -THEATER REVIEW: of Wicked (Daniel Handler, NY Times) SENDAK/WILD THINGS:
    -WIKIPEDIA: MAURICE SENDAK
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Maurice Sendak (IMDB)
    -INFO: Where the Wild Things Are (IMDB)
    -LECTURE: Descent Into Limbo (Maurice Sendak, 4/05/03, MIT World)
    -ESSAY: Facing our monsters: How Maurice Sendak tamed the 'Wild Things' (Kuwait Times, October 26, 2009)
    -TRIBUTE: Magic Words: How Maurice Sendak unleashed a multimedia monster with 10 little sentences. (Lauren F. Friedman, October 14, 2009, City Paper)
    -INTERVIEW: ‘Where the Wild Things Are’: Let the wild rumpus start! (Ramin Setoodeh and Andrew Romano, 10/09/09, NEWSWEEK)
    -PROFILE: Maurice Sendak Sheds Moonlight on a Dark Tale (SARAH LYALL, September 20, 1993, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: Where the Wild Things Weren’t (BRUCE HANDY, October 8, 2009 , NY Times)
[W]hen I was a kid, “Where the Wild Things Are” was something to be reckoned with, like the mumps. I was 4 when it was published in 1963. I was cognizant that teachers and librarians thought it was a “good” book, proved by the shiny Caldecott Medal on its cover. (A budding critic, I had a premature and probably unhealthy interest in consensus.) I don’t think my family had a copy, but I remember seeing it in what I now realize were the more cosmopolitan homes on my Northern California cul-de-sac — the book resides in my possibly ­exaggerated-for-effect memory as an early ’60s progressive totem alongside Danish modern furniture, African art and the sticky, stale-sweet smell of pipe tobacco. I was certainly aware of “Where the Wild Things Are” as something I should like, the way I have more recently felt I ought to like Tom Waits and “30 Rock.”

But once I finally got it — a convert! — I was eager to read “Where the Wild Things Are” to my own kids. Yet neither Isaac, as you know, nor his older sister, Zoe, much cared for it. I read it to them once or twice; they shrugged; the book got permanently shelved while the bindings cracked on “Go, Dog. Go!” and “The Rainbow Fish.” I’ve wondered if another reason I didn’t properly love “Where the Wild Things Are” as a kid was that anger hadn’t been freely expressed in my button-down home; perhaps I had found Sendak’s parable less liberating than off-putting or even frightening. (The latter was a common concern when the book was first published.) Conversely, yelling at one another is almost a hobby in my present home, so maybe that’s why my own kids found the book — this is all I could get out of them — “boring.” Perhaps they agreed with Publishers Weekly, which, back in 1963, dismissed Sendak’s story as “pointless and confusing.”

Obviously, many millions of children have loved “Where the Wild Things Are” — there are more than 19 million copies in print around the world — but I was struck, while conducting an extremely informal survey of a couple of dozen friends and a few professionals in the field of children’s literature, by how many said Sendak’s work had eluded their younger selves and/or their own offspring. Which kids’ books, I had wanted to know, are appreciated more in theory, or by adults, than by actual kids? I never heard a knock against Beverly Cleary and only one against Dr. Seuss. But probably half my sample group had shrugged at “Where the Wild Things Are.” “Impenetrable,” one educator and critic said. In her view, while the book was written from a child’s perspective, it had the processed feel of “something arrived at years later as a construct to understand the writer’s own anger.” Actually, I think that’s what I now like about the book, that sense of self-aware struggle — and whiff of psychoanalysis. Sendak hinted at this in a 1966 interview with the New Yorker: “It’s only after the act of writing the book that, as an adult, I can see what has happened, and talk about fantasy as catharsis, about Max acting out his anger as he fights to grow. . . . For me, the book was a personal exorcism. It went deeper into my own childhood than anything I’ve done before.”

    -REVIEW ARCHIVES: Where the Wild Things Are (Metacritic)
    -PROFILE: Spike Jonze and his 'Wild' endeavor (Steven Rea, 10/13/09, Philadelphia Inquirer)
    -REVIEW: of Where the Wild Things Are (A.O. Scott, NY Times)
    -ARCHIVES: Maurice Sendak (NY Times)

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