Where the Wild Things Are Not Suitable for Children?

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Originally posted on Tue, 21 Feb 1995 by Tracy FeinHi.

I have a question about Maurice Sendak and his works–specifically _Where the Wild Things Are_– and the audiences the books are intended for or even for which audiences they are most widely used. I had company over this past weekend–ALL PhD. students in Psychology–and I was sharing with them some of the books in my Children’s Literature collection. When _Wild Things_ went around the group, I heard a number of comments which I have not associated with the book first-hand. I know that Sendak has been considered controversial for years–probably more years than I have been alive! But since most of my discussions on his works have been with Children’s Literature authors and students, I haven’t heard anything too negative until this past Friday night. One of the young women said something like, ” Oh! I hate this book! This book is terrible for Children! It gives them nightmares and scares them! I would never read this book to a child!” And she went on to share an experience she had working at a day-care center where they “screened” the books brought in by parents, and one of the titles not even allowed on their library’s book shelf was _Wild Things. She said that the only purpose the library served was for oral reading material for the aides and teachers. What do you think? The whole situation disturbed me as I am vehemently opposed to censorship of any kind. I, however, most likely, would have been one of the kids who had nightmares as a result of a good reading of it! Thanks!

Originally posted on Tue, 21 Feb 1995 by Michael LevyWhere the Wild Things Are is potent stuff and, yes, it can cause nightmares. It gave my older child, a rather mild mannered sort nightmares until he was about 8then he developed a passion for it. My younger child, one of the fiercest girl children you’ll ever meet, loves Where the Wild Things Are, virtually has it memorized. Acts it out in her bedroom late at night. Where the Wild Things Are is about anger and powerlessness, and how children can use their imaginations to learn how to cope with these things. This is a scarey topic. It’s also, I might add a scarey topic for adults, many of whom are afraid of the kind of anger children are capable of generating.No insult intented to your friends, but I don’t think I’d want my kids going to a day care center that banned Where the Wild Things Are!
Originally posted on Wed, 22 Feb 1995 Michael J. Matthews”Where the Wild Things Are” really is a story of mastery — the mastery of feelings, which can seem as wild things to children (and adults). Sendak once said he was amazed that a child could somehow “conquer” such large and difficult things as feelings, but in “Wild Things,” Max, of course, does. I recently had the pleasure of reading the book to a group of children and parents; the kids had fun “rolling their terrible eyes and gnashing their terrible teeth” as the story progressed; they also enjoyed saying, No!” “Wild Things” was the book that introduced me to children’s literature as an adult, when I bought it to read to my children; I’d hate to think of a library without it.Originally posted on Wed, 22 Feb 1995 by Michele MissnerI have always like Maurice Sendak and first learned about him in children’s lit when I was In graduate school quite a few years ago. I read his books to my children and their response was to look for Max whenever we went to a woods. They are yung adult now and maybe I will ask them. What I do find is that young people are often much more conservative than those of us who are more seasoned. I have found some of Sendak’s works a little bewildering particularly his most recent things. I do a censorhsip unit with high school students and have them read children’s picture books that have been challenged. I am often amazed at their conservative views.I am also teaching a university level young adult lit class this semester. This week we discussed the _Chocolate War_. A good percentage did not like it nor did they think that it should be discussed in school lit classes. I don’t know. I thought that it was very good and life can be bleak.Originally posted on Wed, 22 Feb 1995 by Elizabeth T. MahoneyDefending Sendak (not that he needs my help).I agree with Mike Levy that Max is a child seeking control in his world. I do not believe that Max is unusual. Finding control is what is each child must do to make sense of the world. Parents live through the “terrible twos” and the child’s “testing” at ages four and five. I think that Max represents the typical child. The monsters on Max’s island are big and hairy… but I just don’t buy into the idea that they are scary. I would put them into the same kind of category as dinosaurs…big but more fascinating to a child than threatening. But more important to me is the fact that Max controls those monsters – The monsters aren’t threatening when they cry “Please don’t go!”….rather the monsters are reacting in child like fashion for the wild rumpus to continue. Max has the POWER to say NO!, and sail back home to his bedroom.Originally posted on Wed, 22 Feb 1995 Jim MaroonI would say the individual who said Wild Things will scare children doesn’t know the first thing about children. I have shared that book with thousands of young children and they have never greeted it with anything but delight.It is a scary book, though, but the people it scares are not children. It’s the grownups that it frightens. Max is far too independent for many of us.Originally posted on Wed, 22 Feb 1995 by Suzanne M. RobbinsHere! Here! You can find a child who is afraid of almost anything (including Bert & Ernie, Big Bird, Santa Claus, and the Easter Bunny! Wild Things was definitely much LESS frightening to my six-year old than all of the above mentioned “acceptable” childhood images. It is one of his favorite books! My first grade class loved the book, and convinced me to name my kitten “MAX” because HE was a REAL “wild thing!” I’m sure many parents who are overly concerned about Wild Things wouldn’t hesitate to allow their children to watch many more frightening things on television . . .Originally posted on Wed, 22 Feb 1995 by Judy VolcYou might remember that many children use bedtime fears to get attention and to delay going to sleep. I’ve had several parents complain about books that “give nightmares” to kids and all of those kids had other means for delaying bedtime; they were night people who weren’t ready to sleep or kids who needed/wanted more attention than they were getting.I don’t underestimate children’s fears but usually they are not well articulated. The books may give them the descriptions/words they need to relate their own vague feelings. Ask any kid how far they can jump to get into bed and still avoid whatever is under “there”….or how many close the closet door before sleeping (Mayer’s NIGHTMARE IN MY CLOSET). Or, for that matter, ask adults. Fear of the unseen (dark?) is universal or nearly so. Bettleheim was one of those who challenged WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE before he had read it. Later, after reading it, he retracted his criticism and cited the section where Max “stared into all their yellow eyes without blinking once” and takes control of the Wild Things/Fears and indeed of the whole situation and becomes “king of all wild things.” This is an absolute turnaround. Kids relate well to this section. I’ve read this book aloud for decades but mostly as a choral reading because children just join in and chant the words – which they know by heart. I speak regularly to high school and university students most of whom remember the book with great affection. Those of you with sincere concerns (I second this suggestion) might read Bettleheim’s USES OF ENCHANTMENT about just what kids do take from story. Also remember that being 8.>-8D8.> Horror movies are an entirely different topic.
Originally posted on Wed, 22 Feb 1995 by Perry NodelmanOn the subject of nightmares and Wild Things. I once made a passionate speech in a children’s lit class about how this book couldn’t possibly give children nightmare and we were being silly to worry about it and all, and a student deflated me by telling me that I was wrong, because the book had given her child a nightmare. And why? Well, it seems the poor kid had a strange hting about pictures of moons–he pointed to the moons in the backgrounds of Sendak’s pictures and screeched and screeched, and then had a nightmare. Which only goes to prove: it’s impossible to predict what will give any of us the heebie-jeebies. For some kids it’s wild things, for some it’s moons. For me, I guess, it’s Disney movies. Censors always think they know more about children and how they will respond than they could possibly ever know.
Originally posted on Wed, 22 Feb 1995 by Beverly ClarkI agree with Mike Levy, Deidre Johnson, and everyone else who has suggested that the vast majority of children love WILD THINGS, though there may be an idiosyncratic child or two; that, further, it’s adults who have problems (I remember the look on the face of a friend when I gave her daughter a copy). I’d specify further that it’s adults who didn’t encounter the book as a child who have problems. There’s an interesting phenomenon in the history of children’s literature, pertaining especially to popular literature: what gets trashed by one generation is treasured by the next. I’m thinking of dime novels, Stratemeyer syndicate series like Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift (castigated by the Boy Scouts at first), comic books (blamed for juvenile delinquency in a best-selling tirade called SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT). Something similar seems to have happened, in part, with WILD THINGS. These days my traditional-college-age students enrolled in “Children’s Literature” remember it with great affection: fifteen years ago, in an annual informal survey of favorite children’s books, WILD THINGS wouldn’t make it into the top 10; now it regularly jostles CHARLOTTE’S WEB for first place.
Originally posted on Wed, 22 Feb 1995 by Jim MaroonOn moons and Wild Things and nightmares…I would go further and say that not only is there no way to tell what will or will not give nightmares, but there is no way to tell what caused the nightmare even after the fact. Many things we think we fear are only symbols of what we really do fear, and when we dream about the symbols, we are dreaming about the true fears that were there in the first place. The book didn’t put them there. It just gave them an image with which we could deal, and there
Originally posted on Wed, 22 Feb 1995 by Anne PhillipsIn my children’s lit. classes, we apply Molly Bang’s theories on illustration t o *Where the Wild Things Are.* Bang suggests that “[w]e feel more scared looki ng at pointed shapes; we feel more secure or comforted looking at rounded shape s or curves” (98). With this in mind, my students commonly find the monsters, with their rounded nails and horns and bodies, far more gentle and welcoming th an those initial pictures of Max–chasing the dog with the oversize fork, hangi ng the teddy bear with that astoundingly large hammer. The “pointed shapes” in the book are almost universally associated with Max.Yet another plug for Bang’s *Picture This: Perception and Composition*!!
Originally posted on Thu, 23 Feb 1995 by Judy VolcRarely have I seen any child frightened by a book (35 yrs in public library children’s department). When it has happened, I just suggest that we close the book and leave “whatever” inside. That has always seemed to work – tho, unless the child seems terrified I finish the book first – partly because the story usually resolves the scariness and I want them to see that. I do this because I am usually reading to a large number of children. Also any child can leave (public library) at any time and so the frightened child may, again, be seeking attention OR enjoying the process of being frightened in a well lighted room with lots of people around.I would much rather talk with the child to find out just what IS frightening but rarely have that opportunity. I do believe that children’s fears are real but not articulated or even really identified. I also believe that children are quite capable of dealing with their fears. Peter Parnall tells of reading Sissor Man to his young son who told Parnall that the “thing under the bed” would get sissor man before sissor man got his (the child’s) thumb. Most children’s books do resolve the scary parts: characters overcome, survive, take control or somehow come out on top of the (figurative) monsters. Children like the justice of this process – so unlike the lack of justice in real life. This is not a simple thing. And it’s different for each child.


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2 responses to “Where the Wild Things Are Not Suitable for Children?

  1. Preston Hensley

    I remember reading this book when I was younger I had a dream not to long ago I had completely forgotten about this book. When I was young I had dreams on and off for many months the were not nightmare but rather enjoyable I can remember the monsters by the trees and the beautiful but yet very dense forest.


  2. Lori Ringhand

    I read this book many times to my children. They never had nightmares from it!


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