For me it all started the night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind or another. But then again, that’s how it started for most of us who’ve read Maurice Sendak. Max is the hero of Sendak’s best-known work Where the Wild Things Are. First published in 1963, it has sold over 17 million copies worldwide, and has entertained, delighted and intrigued who knows how many millions of children and adults.
I love it because it is wonderful, beautiful and strange. When I asked my 10-year-old daughter why she liked it she said, ‘because the pictures are funny and his room turns into jungle and his supper’s waiting for him when he gets back’. In many ways this is a far better summary than anything I could attempt. Still, I’ll have a go. The plot is simple. Max, a boy in a white wolf suit, is misbehaving one evening. He bangs a nail in a wall to support a bedclothes tent. He suspends a forlorn teddy by string from a coat-hanger. And wielding a fork he leaps down the stairs chasing a small white dog.
His mother calls Max a ‘wild thing’ and when he threatens to eat her up he’s sent to bed without any supper. Banished to his room he discovers it magically transformed into a forest. He finds a boat, sails an ocean, and ends up on an island of terrible monsters that he tames by staring into their eyes. The monsters declare Max their king and they dance and cavort together across three wordless double-page spreads. But Max gets bored and sails home, back to his bedroom, where his supper is waiting for him.
Sendak tells the whole story in ten sentences. In all there are only 338 words. But there are also eighteen glorious pictures which take you from the small world of childhood boredom that we can all remember to the unrestrained empire of a child’s imagination. The colours used are subtle and understated. And the drawing is meticulous. But the monsters are astonishing. They somehow manage the impossible feat of being both
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