Book Review: Where The Wild Things Are

by Josh Hanagarne on May 29, 2009

Yet another of ALA’s most frequently challenged books. I know…I’ll stop reviewing them once I’ve read them all.  Or, I guess I’ll stop once people quit challenging books (after I’ve read the current batch of no-nos).


Party time

Party time

I understand that someone might be disturbed by the cruelty of the teenagers in The Chocolate War.  There is no denying that Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark isn’t full of grotesque pictures and tales.  Even Where’s Waldo? has its detractors–but they detract (I think this is a word) for concrete reasons.

Whether they should be offended I leave up to you–but in the books mentioned above, challengers know exactly what they find offensive.

The criticism directed at the charming Where The Wild Things Are is scattershot and bizarre.  Most people I’ve talked to about it can’t really elaborate on why they find it inappropriate.  They just do.  Yes, I’m generalizing, but I’m not being less precise than someone saying “It’s bad because it’s bad.”

The story

A boy  named Max throws a hissy fit and his parents send him to bed without supper.  He then travels to a crazy island where he meets the Wild Things.

The Wild Things

The Wild Things

They have a big party called The Wild Rumpus.  Basically they just howl and dance.  Then Max decides to go home…and he does.

When he gets home, his supper is still warm.

The end.

Reasons for the challenges

  • Max is sent to bed without supper.  Some people have found this to be unacceptably cruel
  • Max throws a tantrum.  This sort of behavior was not tolerated Back In The Day–at least not Back In The Day when Where The Wild Things Are was written. For my part, one of my own characters in The Knot was inspired by Max.
  • It gives children nightmares
  • It has subversive psychoanalytic overtones (undertones?)

The Verdict

These are the sorts of erratic statement I expect to hear from people wearing those hats with the buckles on them.  But since this is not the era of the Mayflower, it is time for cooler heads to prevail. As usual: everybody settle down.

Where the Wild Things Are is one of my earliest memories of literature.  It is one of the reasons I became a book lover, and I know I am not alone in that.  I agree that this book is potent and evocative, as the best books should be.  Sadly, this is the case with many banned books…if not most.  Where The Wild Things Are stirs the imagination of anyone who looks at it, whether they know it or not.

And the Where the Wild Things pictures and illustrations are some of the most memorable I’ve ever seen.

Stifling the imagination is unhealthy  Banning books stifles the imagination.  Connect the dots and then go read this wonderful story.

There is a lot to love here. I think I could read the book a dozen times in a row and find something different to enjoy every time, which would probably results in a different Where The Wild Things Are book review every single time.

 

Josh


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{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

Blaine Moore May 29, 2009 at 8:16 am

I loved this book growing up, and will definitely be getting a copy when I have kids.

My mother rarely forbid me to read any specific books. The only exception was that there were a few years when she wouldn’t let me read Stephen King books for some reason, so I got around that by reading Richard Bachman books. She didn’t know it was the same person.

Of course, once she grew out of that phase and I did read a few SK books, I couldn’t figure out why she didn’t let me read them. They weren’t really my cup of tea.

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Josh Hanagarne May 29, 2009 at 9:48 am

When I was 12, I started reading Stephen King. My mom didn’t want me to read his books. So when the bookmobile came, I would check out two books, one whose cover I would put over the Stephen King cover. I thought this was very clever.

Until…I was reading a teen fantasy series called Xanth, by Piers Anthony. I checked out a book called “The Color of Her Panties” and put the cover on my copy of King’s The Tommyknockers.

It never occurred to me that the mention of panties might give my mom more notice than SK. So for the next while, I had to get even sneakier, as I was no longer supposed to read King, or Piers Anthony.

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Tim May 29, 2009 at 11:11 am

Josh:

I don’t really remember the book, so thank you for the review. It sounds like an episode of Lost, LOL. I have read my share of banned books in my time and don’t really understand what the fuss is about. I don’t think I have ever been “corrupted” as a result of reading a book. I think even the Harry Potter books have been questioned, which I don’t understand. In fact, the more controversial a book is, the more I want to read it.

In any case, Josh, thank you for giving us a librarian’s perspective. I am now headed off to my local library to find a couple blogging books.

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Josh Hanagarne May 29, 2009 at 11:23 am

It sort of does sound like Lost, just spread out across 20 illustrated pages instead of 6 loooong seasons. And yes, Harry Potter is on the chopping block somewhere every day. There are plenty of challenged books out there that I personally find revolting and want nothing to do with (more on that later.) However, just knowing that I could go get those books if I wanted to is a big deal. Nothing scares me more than the control of information…except maybe the smoke beast on Lost.

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Jules May 29, 2009 at 12:00 pm

It’s the children’s book from my youth that I remember the most clearly. I threw all others away, but couldn’t bear to part with it. Who the hell would ban a fun book like that?

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Josh Hanagarne May 29, 2009 at 12:08 pm

Lots of people. Fun means different things to different people. I doubt I’ll ever get over the sheer head-scratching-confusion of this challenged book in particular. Little kids don’t have tantrums just because a kid in a book has a tantrum. They have tantrums because they’re little kids. I know this as a new father. I’m certainly going to read Where The Wild Things Are to Max, even if it drives him into dementia and defiance:)

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tyler October 15, 2009 at 6:51 am

“Where the wild things are?” Was my favorite book as a kid and am so stoked to go see the movie. I also liked the mercer mayer and robert munch books.

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Jules May 29, 2009 at 2:18 pm

Your kid is called Max? That’s funny, the dutch translation of “Where the wild things are” translates to “Max and the maximonsters”. :)

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Josh Hanagarne May 29, 2009 at 2:43 pm

Max it is. Unfortunately, the day after he was born we found out that J-Lo and Cristina Aguilera had both just named their babies Max. It is my goal in life that my son never thinks I jumped on THAT bandwagon.

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Al in Vancouver May 29, 2009 at 5:02 pm

Max is a great name. It was on my short-list when my partner was pregnant and ten we had a girl.

Love the book. Read it to my daughter. She is going to be like Max a little, methinks.

Have you read Sendak’s IN THE NIGHT KITCHEN? Pretty strange.

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Josh Hanagarne May 29, 2009 at 5:50 pm

In the Night Room is always being challenged as well. It’s a cool, bizarre book. Maurice Sendak is pretty consistent for off the charts excellence and weirdness.

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michelle (memachelle) May 30, 2009 at 12:07 am

I was lucky enough to be allowed to read whatever I was capable of understanding. My mom told the school & city librarians, if she can read the words she has my permission to check it out. Thank god for an under-educated(quit in 10th grade) super-intelligent mom!!!

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Josh Hanagarne May 30, 2009 at 7:42 am

Absolutely. Shake your mom’s hand for me. That is an ongoing argument in libraries: whether parents can dictate what a child can check out. They can certainly dictate what they can or can’t read or watch or listen to in their homes, but many are very upset that our computer software isn’t set up to automatically block kids from certain materials. I have mixed feelings about this one.

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ann elise May 30, 2009 at 1:55 am

Josh,

We found a copy in *perfect* condition at a used book store a few months back. Frances now demands we read Wild almost daily. She even recites the words.

Great choice to review!

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Josh Hanagarne May 30, 2009 at 7:41 am

Thanks Ann. My son is hypnotized by the book. He doesn’t have any idea what the words are yet, but the pictures are undeniably appealing to him–more so than a lot of other books.

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Kami Lee June 2, 2009 at 7:13 pm

Potent and evocative. Yes. Books that scarred me:

Three Robbers by Tomi Ungerer (what are they DOING to the horses?!) 40 pages of pure terror. Well, probably 30 pages–It has a happy ending.

Lonesome Dove–My dad wanted me to read it cuz he loved it so much. I was 12ish. Loved it. But I can still remember the description of a man’s (belonging to Gus, I believe) nether regions to this day.

Clan of the Cave Bear (again, my dad)–violence and cave people sex. Look into it.

The Journeyer by Gary Jennings–if you’ve ever read anything by him, you know what I mean. More deviants than you can shake a stick at. The Fondler gives me the shivers still.

Bless the parents that believe in books that give kids a shock.

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Vanessa July 25, 2009 at 12:09 am

Wow these people who have it out for books really need to get a life. How sad for them.
1984 just got pulled from Kindle. Another reason to reject the Kindle!

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Josh Hanagarne July 25, 2009 at 8:10 am

@Vanessa. That Kindle situation is just too poetic.

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Ashleigh Webb August 7, 2009 at 8:15 pm

hi I love `where the wild things are’ i always read it as a child

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katie smith September 20, 2009 at 11:08 am

I find censorship to be an excuse for parental laziness. I can understand wanting to be protective of your child in their formative years, but as a parent it’s your job to discuss things with your children to help them understand the world around them. Banning books and forbidding topics only serves to create ignorant and imaginationless children. I grew up very conservatively, but even my parents were careful about banning me from reading certain books. R.L. Stine books were about the only books I wasn’t allowed to read. My parents talked to me and helped me understand how to make my own wise choices. It concerns me that parents now leave it up to the government to shield their children from things they themselves are afraid of.

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Josh Hanagarne September 20, 2009 at 11:11 am

Katie, I love it. R.L. Stine was one of the darker things my parents didn’t mind. They didn’t let me read Stephen King when I was 12, but I got all the Fear Street and Goosebumps I could handle. Of course, they became the gateway drug to King. Your parents sound like wise people.

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katie smith September 20, 2009 at 11:15 am

Thanks, Josh! I teach 8th grade and it is hard enough to get kids to read without yanking fabulous books off the shelf. I also feel like kids, especially older one, identify with characters who are like them. I have seen many kids work through an emotional issue by reading a book. Why would anyone want to take that away from them?

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Josh Hanagarne September 20, 2009 at 11:29 am

Katie, I think you’re absolutely right. Sadly, I think more kids these days are identifying with characters who go through really horrific experiences. Nothing in my library is more popular than (other than vampires and manga, of course) books about cutters, drug users, excluded homosexuals, victims of abuse, etc. The good news is, these books that are challenged almost never get banned, except by huge lame-os.

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Sonya Goldstein October 12, 2009 at 8:26 pm

This is still one of my most favorite books in the entire world and I saved my special copy for my now 2 1/2 year old son. Seeing him in action truly brings to life what it is to be a little boy and the beautiful thing that we start with and hopefully do not lose when we grow up- IMAGINATION. These challenges are sooo funny…
Max is sent to bed without supper: He is not really sent to bed without supper. It is waiting for him when he wakes from his day dream. Doesn’t 1 minute in time out feel like a life time to a little boy?
Max throws a tantrum. This sort of behavior was not tolerated Back In The Day–at least not Back In The Day when Where The Wild Things Are was written: Since when does anyone’s opinion of behavior and when to display it successfully stop a toddler from having a tantrum?
It gives children nightmares: A book about having fun and bossing around a bunch of monsters giving a little boy nightmares? My child decided he is a dinosaur and stalks the dogs regularly (in fun of course)- no TV or book taught him that, just imagination. This is FUN for a little boy. We should be encouraging kids to get out there and hang off the monkey bars instead of sitting around in front of TV getting fat like so many are nowadays!
It has subversive psychoanalytic overtones (undertones?) – this is not supposed to be a drinking book! HaHa

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Josh Hanagarne October 12, 2009 at 8:27 pm

Sonya: People will drink to anything:) Does your son have a favorite dinosaur? My boy is 19 months old and is starting to like roaring.

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Christine October 15, 2009 at 4:49 pm

Thank you for such a well thought out and written review. I loved this book.

And I still have a wild thing inside that rears his head every now and again. As a child I totally related to this book and wanting to escape at times. I still do.

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sue October 15, 2009 at 8:25 pm

I love he Book Read it every night to my son it was his favorit ..

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Evelynn October 16, 2009 at 11:58 am

I just don’t get why it was banned in the first place, that’s all I’m trying to figure out. banning books, to me, is just like communism. who’s to say who can read what?

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Josh Hanagarne October 16, 2009 at 1:11 pm

Evelyn, it wasn’t quite “banned.” Someone always wants to remove it from library shelves because it “encourages inappropriate behavior.” Books don’t get banned in America, but that doesn’t mean people don’t try. It is more common in communist states. For instance, in China Alice in Wonderland was banned because animals talk in the book. “Representing animals as having human traits” was no acceptable, so the book was banned.

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Lois Levy October 16, 2009 at 11:09 pm

thank you, Josh. I was teaching kindergarten in 1967 when I discovered the Wild Things. I blew all the “things” up to life size, laminated them and had them all over each of my classrooms for the next three years. No child was ever frightened by the book or the monsters.
Sendak speaks directly to children. And he speaks truth.

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Josh Hanagarne October 17, 2009 at 7:48 am

Lois, I wish I had been in one of your classrooms. Sounds like you got it right.

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Mike October 18, 2009 at 4:24 pm

I am nearing 30 years old and do not plan on limiting books at all to my kid. He is only 9 months and already very ahaid of the game for his age. I have a very vivid imagination, something I take great pride in never loosing. In all honesty it is what keeps me sane. Books are the best thing to fuel the curiosity that we should all have.

I would love to come home one day, see my kid playing and ask, “whatcha doin”, and he would reply, “I am the king of the monsters, we are going on an adventure”. And even better then that, if he would ask me to join him on this adventure. That would be awsome^^

Because of books, and more then anything now, role playing games, wether they be video or live action. I am not beyond getting down on all fours, or chasing my kid around because I am a dragon, or should I end up being his horse >.<, I hope my back can hold that kind of torture. But I do hope that my kid will be brought up questioning the boundries of his mind. Where does our ability to understand ourselves or for that matter, the universe end? Can it end? Can we surpass the limits of the human brain?

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Josh Hanagarne October 18, 2009 at 4:28 pm

Mike, if you do some kettlebells, your back will be fine:) Seriously, I agree with you on all counts. My little boy just turned 20 months. I feel like every minute I don’t spend rolling around on the floor with him is wasted time.

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Kender July 7, 2010 at 9:59 am

Josh, I am a first grade teacher and a grad student. I read this book every year to my students. I do a week long lesson on it, reading it every day. For grad work, we are required to select a genre and then pick 3 books within that genre suitable for elementary, middle school, and high school. My choices: Where the Wild Things Are, The Lion the Witch & the Wardrobe, and Twilight. The obvious genre is fantasy. This was totally unplanned or perhaps built into my subconscious, but the 3 books I chose have all been made into movies. Coincidence? Probably not…. the very best fantasies intrigue us and have us begging for more. I love Where the Wild Things Are, and I greatly enjoyed your book review.

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Josh Hanagarne July 7, 2010 at 10:05 am

Kender, you made my day, thanks for stopping by.

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