Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Where on earth do I start with this classic? To quote Julie Andrews from the Sound of Music, I guess I need to “start at the very beginning”. I first heard of Where The Wild Things Are from my husband. He insisted we buy it when our first daughter was born. I had not heard of the book, but he said it was an absolute favourite of his! He even recalled his father reading it to him when he was a little boy.
I have kept the copy of the book we first bought back in 1993. It was first published in the US in 1963 and in the UK in 1967. I find it impossible to come up with any single word to describe the pictures. I have spent hours reading this book to my three children, and many hundreds of school children, and it has given me so many wonderfully emotional, warm and fuzzy moments. If you have not yet had the pleasure of sharing this book with your child or children, then I recommend you do so immediately.
5 Reasons to Read
1 Poetic narrative
The language used is just gorgeous. It is more like an unstructured poem than a prose text. Sendak wrote how ‘an ocean tumbled by’ and placed Max sailing ‘through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year’. It’s just beautiful. The more you can expose your child to story language, the more they will love it. And the more likely they will use it in their own creative writing.
2 Pictures tell the story
Where the Wild Things Are is a true Picture Book, with the pictures and text combining to tell the whole story. At the beginning, the text tells us that Max ‘made mischief of one kind and another’ and the pictures tell us what some of that mischief was. Then, in the middle of the story there are pictures of ‘the wild rumpus’. Encourage your child to use their own words to describe the rumpus and add in your own words, to expand and extend theirs. Children need to develop their speech and hear new words to develop their own communication skills.
3 The picture frames (and lack of them)
The first picture of Max has a large white frame. This frame decreases with each successive picture until it disappears completely. The pictures then increase in size, covering the left page as well as the right and during the wild rumpus both pages are filled in their entirety. The reverse then occurs as Max returns home. The changing frame could simply refer to when the story goes from real to fantasy. However, it could also be seen to represent the presence of Max’s mother providing a safe boundary or even Max dipping his toe into a world where he is in charge. What do you think?
4 Great vocabulary
‘they roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws’. These words are great to read out loud with big voices, over and over. All children deserve to hear it, to join in with it, to read it and ultimately to use it in their own speech and written work.
5 Help your child develop emotional literacy
Max clearly starts off feeling angry. Anger is a natural emotion and one that we all experience at some time or another. If you never feel angry, you can never know how to deal with it. Books are a brilliant way for children to explore negative emotions and learn about managing them.
If you look carefully at the pictures you will see Max going through a full range of emotions. He starts off angry, then is almost maniacal! We also see a scared Max, a controlling Max, a regal and possibly pompous Max and a pensive and homesick Max. Few books show these emotions and thus this book is an excellent vehicle to help talk about them.
Where The Wild Things Are is a book that consists of beautiful language and stunning pictures. But it is more than that. This book could help you and your child explore feelings and emotions. This could help you and your child develop understanding and skills that will be of benefit for many years to come.
Additional Learning Opportunities
- Max discovers the land of the wild things. Why not dig up an atlas and talk about famous land discoveries made by boat.
- Have fun acting out roles in fancy dress.
- Put on some ‘wild rumpus’ music and let the ‘wild thing’ in you out!
- Draw or paint some ‘wild things’ of your own.
- If you have older children, they could write the story in the form of a play script, and then act it out.
- Discuss whether Max would ever return to see the wild things and what might happen then?