Where the Wild Things Are: The best children’s book ever

The book has held up, too, because while the details are wonderfully specific – the look of the bizarre monsters, the white wolf suit, the fact that Max chases the dog with a fork and his cry of “I’ll eat you!” in response to “wild thing!” – it’s also completely relatable and open to interpretation. I was obsessed with Where the Wild Things Are as a kid and have carried my dog-eared copy, with its 90p price tag, through countless house moves into adulthood, a talisman of sorts. My parents divorced when I was a baby and as a very small child I found it unsettling to leave my mother and my permanent home to live with my father and stepmother, despite the warm welcome. Looking back, I realize I idolized Max, his ability to sail into the night, far from his mother, and fearlessly confront those monsters. I longed to be brave, like him.

Max didn’t really sail into the night, of course. But for my child herself, there was no difference between what was real and what Max imagined in the book. Interviews with Sendak often refer to the “doorways” or “secret entrances and exits” between the parallel realms of reality and fantasy that he intuitively understood and could easily slip between while creating, much like a child. In 1970, when Braun visited Sendak at his home on West Ninth Street in Manhattan, the journalist described the actual passageway to his home studio as “long and narrow and dimly lit,” a space Sendak passed through each day to “experience the world of his childhood”. Perhaps this is what Sendak also offers its readers: more than just a book, Wild Things is a portal to the feelings and desires of our own childhood. It actually takes us through one of Sendak’s mysterious corridors, making us not only hear about, but relive the realm of childhood.

Most importantly, in our age of iPhones, computer games, and AI, of being oversaturated by the endless churn of 24-hour TV and social media, Wild Things is a much-needed reminder of what really drives kids — and people in general —: freedom to express themselves. to print, to play, to connect with nature, family and of course love. His masterpiece may be only a few hundred words long, but it captures the essence of the human condition: that when all is said and done, when we must rest from our adventure, we all long to go home where someone loves most of us.

Imogen Carter is the picture book critic for The Observer.

Read more about BBC Culture’s 100 best children’s books:
The 100 best children’s books
The 20 best children’s books
The best children’s books of the 21st century
Who voted?
#100 Greatest Children’s Books

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