About Those Wild Things

I’ll get my two part confession out of the way first. (1) I never read Where the Wild Things Are to my students. My reason is the second part of the confession. (2) I didn’t like it. Early in my teaching career, I heard a sound piece of advice in a workshop. The presenter said, “If you don’t like a book, choose something else to read aloud to your students. They will pick up on your negative feelings.” So I chose to read aloud other Maurice Sendak books that I liked. There were plenty to choose from.

My students shared my love for Pierre: A Cautionary Tale, giggling at its absurdities and feeling very superior to the brat who answers everything with “I don’t care,” including the lion’s suggestion that he could eat Pierre.

We started every new month with a poem from his Chicken Soup with Rice: A Book of Months. A sample to get you ready for June:
            In June
            I saw a charming group
            Of roses all begin
            To droop.
            I pepped them up
            With chicken soup!
            Sprinkle once
            Sprinkle twice
            Sprinkle chicken soup
            With rice.

Now I had no personal quarrel with the wild things and was shocked to find among Ezra Jack Keats papers an exchange in the March 1969 Ladies Home Journal. In the previous issue, an expert pediatrician had a conversation with three irate mothers in which they denounce the book as being too damaging to children’s psyches. Keats had written a scathing letter to the editor defending the book and berating the physician who had admitted that he had not read the book. The magazine published Keats’ letter along with a lukewarm semi-apology from the pediatrician who claimed to have come to his original conclusion after he read the book before the article actually went to publication. Shame on him and hooray for Ezra!

I joined the multitudes in the book world in feelings of loss when the news came of Sendak’s death last week – not just for his own books but for the gazillion or so that he illustrated.

My own feelings about Where the Wild Things Are remain unchanged. (Sorry about my taste. While I’m confessing, I also hate Moby Dick.) But I’m very glad I didn’t pass that feeling on to my students. I have good memories of looking back after a trip to the school library with my class and seeing a reluctant second grade reader sitting at his desk absolutely lost with Max and the Wild Things. So glad I didn’t spoil it for him!