Spotlight on Maurice Sendak: Children’s Book Must-Haves

Maurice Sendak is one of the most iconic picture book writers/illustrators of all time – and likely a favorite from your own childhood. Born in New York City in 1928, he illustrated more than eighty books before writing his own, which include favorites such as the Little Bear series, Outside Over There and the beloved classic, Where the Wild Things Are

His striking artwork and childlike imagination largely originated from his own childhood experiences. Often ill, Sendak drew pictures to pass the time. And his infamous wild things are actually interpretations of some of his own aunts and uncles and others – disheveled, with dreadful teeth, and unruly hair growing from unbecoming places.

His career as an illustrator began while working as a window display artist at the F.A.O. Schwarz toy store, when he met Ursula Nordstrom – children’s author and Editor-in-Chief of juvenile books at Harper & Row.

While Sendak is known to be one of the most controversial picture book writers – what with some less-than-prudish illustrations and child characters who just won’t behave, he is one with undeniable talent. Here’s the absolute best of Maurice Sendak – must-haves for any kid’s library:

Chicken Soup with Rice

Originally published in 1962, this charming book helps children learn about the 12 months of the year through singsong, lyrical rhyme that will get them craving Grandma’s favorite recipe. The book’s protagonist is a young boy who makes a case for eating chicken soup every month of the year. Children will enjoy the author’s familiar illustrations, showing the little boy enjoying his best-loved meal throughout the seasons – in strange and unlikely situations. The funny scenes and lyrical verse makes this a favorite for repeat readings.

In the 1970s, Sendak teamed up with American singer/songwriter Carole King to create a musical called Really Rosie. Check it out with your wee ones and you can have Chicken Soup with Rice in song form – any month of the year.

In the Night Kitchen

The author’s most controversial book, In the Night Kitchen tells of a toddler named Mickey who dreams of floating out of his pajamas and landing in a giant bowl of batter in the Night Kitchen. Three identical bakers are preparing the batter oblivious to the young boy’s presence until he jumps out of the bowl. Mickey constructs a plane from bread dough and flies safely back to his bed . . . and his pajamas.

Because of the illustrations in this book, which include a fully naked little boy that leaves nothing to the imagination, and because of some opinions that the book contains inappropriate overtones, In the Night Kitchen has been included on the American Library Association’s list of Banned and Challenged Books for more than a quarter of a century. If you’re ok with birthday suits, it’s a must-read in your family.

Outside Over There

If you didn’t know Sendak was the author and illustrator of this book, you wouldn’t ever guess it to be true. While using similar subdued colors, the artwork is lacking the more cartoonish appearance with which the author’s fans are familiar.

Containing beautiful, dreamy, realistic pictures, the book tells the tale of Ida and her baby sister. Ida’s father is away at sea and her mother is in the arbor while the young girl plays her horn to lull her sister to sleep. When Ida isn’t looking, goblins steal her sister, leaving an ice sculpture changeling in her place. Ida ventures outside over there to rescue her sister from the goblins with the help of her special horn. Scary, yes . . . but cool!

Pierre: A Cautionary Tale

Does your child sound like a broken record, with “I don’t care” on repeat? Then a reading of Pierre is in order. Pierre’s parents are struggling with Pierre’s limited vocabulary throughout the book, which is subtitled, A Cautionary Tale.

For every query or command his mother or father give him, Pierre answers, “I don’t care!” Left alone and abandoned, he sticks to his guns . . . even when a lion approaches him one dark night. The king of the jungles asks Pierre if he can eat him, to which Pierre responds . . . lo and behold in those three little words, “I don’t care!”

What happens next is a fantastical advisory that will warn children to think before they speak. And yes, Pierre is fine.

Where the Wild Things Are

In perhaps the most well-known and beloved of all of Maurice Sendak’s works, a young boy named Max dons a wolf suit and gets into a great deal of mischief. His mother sends him to bed without any supper, but his room turns into a growing forest with an ocean tumbling by. Max sails off for over a year and a day until he lands at the place where the wild things are.

The wild things make Max their king and a wild rumpus ensues. But before long, Max grows bored, tired, and longs for home. Ignoring the cries of the wild things begging him to stay, Max sails home where he finds his supper waiting, still hot.

This is yet another Sendak classic book that caused quite an uproar upon release. Parents and critics were outraged at the ending where Max is still rewarded with a hot bowl of soup despite his bad behavior. Its cult status today, though, likely has those very same critics reading this favorite of all kids everywhere to their own children or grandchildren at home.

What are some of your favorite Sendak books . . . and your kids’?

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