When Max, a boy wearing a wolf suit, is naughty and sent to bed without his supper, his bedroom transforms into a forest and then an ocean. He sails a boat to where the wild things are – creatures that gnash terrible teeth and roll terrible eyes; he tames them and is anointed king. A wild rumpus ensues, until Max sends the wild things to bed without their supper. He grows lonely and smells something good to eat, so he sails home where he finds his supper waiting for him.
Often times, people have a personal relationship with Where the Wild Things Are. For me, as a child, it was exotically mysterious. For a friend, it was the first time he felt fear from art. For my daughter, it is a fascination with Max’s audacious naughtiness. What is it for you?
‘Wild things’ was inspired by the Yiddish expression vilde chava, which translates as ‘wild animals’ and is used in reference to boisterous children. The wild things themselves were based upon Sendak’s own relatives in Brooklyn – poor Polish, Jewish immigrants who visited his family’s home every Sunday.
In reading Where the Wild Things Are as an adult to my daughter, I first took Max’s adventure to be a fantasy of exerting control and dominance. But after reading it over and over, illustrative clues caused me to question my adult perception. Next time you read Where the Wild Things Are, watch the moon – it is sometimes partial, sometimes full, and sometimes not at all. How much time really passes?
Story and pictures by Maurice Sendak
Published by Harper Collins; first published in 1963