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Friday, 25 February 2011

Where the Wild Things Are: Let the wild rumpus start!

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, 1963.
Our edition: The Bodley Head, London, 1993, reprinted 2008. 

One of our absolute favourites, Where the Wild Things Are, has a delightfully dreamlike, gripping text, with terrific pace, rhythm and musicality, combined with stunning pen and ink and watercolour illustrations that draw you into Max's world and make you want to leap up and dance the wild rumpus every time. It is a joy to read out loud.

The Story
Where the Wild Things Are is a journey of a little boy called Max from the solitary confinement of his bedroom, where he has been sent 'without eating anything' for what would now be termed some 'time-out', to the land where the the Wild Things are and then back to the cosiness of his bedroom and the warmth of his supper.

The story opens with Max dressed in a wolf suit, running about his house making mischief until he gets sent to bed without any supper. In the loneliness of his bedroom, Max dreams up a leafy world of thick forest that takes him on a boat 'through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year to where the wild things are'. Here he is met by a group of apparently fearful roar-roaring, teeth--gnashing, eye-rolling, claw-showing monsters. Max manages to tame them 'by staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once' and these creatures -upon closer inspection, charmingly goofy and altogether harmless- immediately make him King of all Wild Things. A wild rumpus ensues until Max orders them all to stop and sends them off to bed without their supper. Suddenly the boy feels lonely and not quite as wild anymore. So he gives up being king of all wild things and decides to sail back to his room, where he finds his supper waiting for him, 'still hot'.

What a wonderful description of a tantrum!

The Illustrations
Here are some of our favourite illustrations from the book:

In this one, we like the drawing of the monster on the wall, signed Max. 

In this one, we love Max's face, defying anger and boredom with imagination:

And this one is our favourite wild rumpus scene: 

One of the many little details I like is that the first few illustrations in the book are set within a frame, which gradually gets narrower with each page, as Max imagination takes hold, until it disappears altogether and the illustration covers the entire page. I like the fact that reality starts off framed and, after passing through the sieve of imagination, ends up frameless and fuller.  

Reading it out loud
We bought this for our son before he was born, and read it to him almost from the start. 

It is one of those texts that flows effortlessly out of your mouth from the very first time you read it. Even as a very young baby, our son seemed to enjoy it, perking up with each exclamation mark and listening to the soft rolling musicality of other parts. 

The first bits that caught his attention and made him laugh were of course the BE STILL! and the "NOW STOP! accompanied by suitably exaggerated authoritarian hand gestures and facial expressions, and obviously the wild rumpus, for which we made interesting drumming sounds, drawing it it out for a bit longer than usual. 

By the time he had learnt how to ask us to read bits again, he was into the monsters roaring their terrible roars and gnashing their terrible teeth and rolling their terrible eyes and showing their terrible claws again and again and again. 

Now, at 23 months, he still loves the wild rumpus and the roaring and the gnashing but he also loves the fact that his nosh was still hot at the end.

We always say ‘nosh’ instead of ‘supper’ when we read it (except in the recording, where we must have felt we had to read it like it was).

I'd just like to make clear that this recording is not meant to set the standard for any future recordings provided! Other recordings will have no fancy music and will normally just be boring old me reading them. This particular recording was a present to my son from "Los Reyes" (The Three Kings, or the Three Wise Men, who bring Spanish children their presents on the 6th of January). 

(C) Copyright of all illustrations in this post, Maurice Sendak, 1963
(C) Copyright of the text, Ellen Duthie. By all means copy it or reproduce it, but please be nice and cite your source (author and site).

More reviews and readings of books by Maurice Sendak on We Read It Like This:


  1. ¡Me encanta!
    We always sung the wild rumpus:
    A humba humba humba humba heee heee
    A humba humba humba humba heee heee
    A humba humba humba humba heee heee
    Now stop!!

  2. When we read it we go dum-dum-dururumrum dururumrum!