Children's Literature

Maurice Sendak where the Wild Things are Review

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"And now, let the wild rumpus start!"

This quote from the children's book Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak is the one line that sums up the message of this book. Much like the booming voice of a sports announcer might tell us, "Let's get ready to rumble!" Sendak establishes that same sense of energy and excitement in this children's book which was first published in 1963. It received the Caldecott in 1964, but has frequently been a book that has seen its share of controversy, often seen as being too dark or deep for children. Just as Max instigates the wild things to celebrate their wildness, the reader also should embrace this unique and wild piece of literature.

Where the Wild Things Are has become part of popular contemporary culture. At the 2009 Easter egg roll on the White House Lawn, President Barack Obama read from this famous book to the children participating in the event. With much enjoyment he spoke the opening quote to the children which initiated the famous White House event.


By selecting the book Where the Wild Things Are, the reader will step into a journey that will cross from the bedroom of a young boy to the world of wild creatures and back again. After being sent to his room for excessively wild behavior, Max dreams of traveling to a wild place where he becomes the king of wild things. As Max experiences this world of the celebrated wild rumpus, he begins to long for his life back home and develops an appreciation for a place where he is loved most of all.

The message of the narrative and illustrations appears to be dark and sinister to some critics, but those who focus in on the dark side are not embracing the message of the narrative. The message Sendak sends the reader is that no matter how wild and out of control we become as children and as a society, there is always one place that we can go to for safety, security and love: home. It shows the reader that even though we may wish for a world where everything is a wild rumpus; the reality is that it isn't all that amazing after all. Max's life was pretty amazing just as it was.

Literary Elements

Written as narrative prose and not poetic verse, the book reads like a short story. Sendak has brief instances of repetition with the phrase "wild things" and "terrible", but in general he leaves most literary elements out of the prose. One of the assets of the book is the use of actions verbs, which keeps the story moving and as a piece of literature to keep the reader engaged. Verbs such as gnashed, roared, and tumbled are ones that add color and interest to the story.


Illustrated with muted colors concentrated with black and white, the illustrations look more like sketches than many books seen today. Despite the lack of bright, bold colors, the illustrations are part of the strength of this book because they help the reader to use imagination while reading. While some critics may see the wild things as terrible, awful beasts, all the reader needs to do is glance a little deeper to see into the souls of these creatures trapped in a world of everything naughty.

One of the best scenes is in the pages of the wild things drifting off to sleep. It reminds parents of their own wild thing that is probably sitting in their arms as the book is read. Kids can be so naughty in the daytime, but taking a nap or drifting off to sleep at night, the child's face and body relaxes releasing the beast within. This child is transformed and is no longer a wild thing. The same thing applies to the illustrations of the wild things in the book. As they drift off to sleep, the reader can see that beneath the tough wild exterior they are sweet little critters too.Through his illustrations Sendak indicates the extended metaphor that everyone has a primitive wild thing inside of them and it reminds the parent to remember what it was like to be a child too.

As a classic children's book Where the Wild Things Are is must reading. Although parents may be put off by the mysterious scary wild things in the story and the bad behavior of the boy named Max, they should use the book as a springboard to tell their children that no matter what they do or what their punishments may be for bad behavior, that their parents still love them and that they are always welcome at home. Enjoy the book, and let there be a little wild rumpus in your life too.

More about this author: Marijane Suttor

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