Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Is it just me, or is Maurice Sendak a little creepy? Don't get me wrong, the guy is brilliant, and I love his books, but working my way through his three most famous books, (Where the Wild Things Are, In the Night Kitchen, and Outside Over There) I am a little worried about the guy.

Actually: it's just the last one that is creepy. In the Night Kitchen is a little disturbing (wow, they try shoving the kid into a hot oven! Great! And--oh, he's swimming naked in the milk! So hygenic!) But Outside Over There is just not really appropriate for a two year old. Of course, I discovered this while I was reading it to Lucy. (note to self: vet picture books. Even award-winning ones from a brilliant author)

Here's why it's creepy:

1. The drawing of the baby? Creepy. She's screaming in almost every picture.

2. Goblins? Little hooded monk/druidish figures? In a children's book?

3. Switcheroo with an ice baby, that looks like a corpse. Very appropriate.

Outside Over There won a Caldecott. Not saying it doesn't deserve it, but I wish I could have seen the room of librarians deciding that one. I think they were all fanning themselves, adjusting their glasses, and taking tiny sips of water. "Ahem. Yes, it is...brilliant. And....strange. I wins?"

Of course, Lucy now loves this book. And wants to show me the "goblets" any time she thinks about it. I'm just hoping their creepiness is not contributing to the waking up in the middle of the night andrising while it's still dark phenomenon that we're in the middle of.

If I do find a correlation, I might just send that Mr. Sendak a letter. "Thanks for your beautiful (but creepy) books. Could you be a little less creative, so my child could sleep at night?


Anonymous said...

It seems to me (as one whose experience with such things is many years in the past, and a few months in the future) that there's a great correlation between classic children's works and creepiness.

I mean, it's been years since I read Shel Silverstein, but surely some complaints could be lodged against him, as well, if one wanted. To say nothing of his work in Playboy.

And, of course, there's Roald Dahl. Have you read Danny the Champion of the World? I haven't in years, but my memory of it is both positive and yet creepy.

And yet, I find it's the potentially disturbing children's works -- so frequently British -- that both I and critics (and awards committees) like.

Which isn't to say you're not in your right to veto them. But ... I don't know. It beats treacly stuff, I'd say.

Heather said...

Yeah, Roald Dahl is definitely creepy. And also one of my favorite authors (period). However, chapter books are allowed a little more creepiness then picture books. Or maybe my problem is that my 2 year old has a decent attention span and so I can read her books whose subject matter is beyond her. Or should be beyond her.

Diana said...

Hence my argument against equating classics with quality. My children's lit classes left me a little disgusted.

As a side note, Caldecott is given to the best artist; Newberry is given to the best author. So a Caldecott actually reflects more the illustrations, not the content.

It's frustrating to me how variable some of the authors are, too. I like "Wild Things" but the others freak me out. I loved Steig's "Sylvester" but found daggers and death in a couple other books. I'd say the kids have short attention spans now, but if Lucy's like me, the one thing she'll glom onto is the one you regret opening up.

Heather said...

so funny--I thought the Newbury was for older books. Which one is that?
Also--all award winners are not necessarily great. Leo Lionni's "Frederick"? What's the moral of the story there? it's okay to do no contributing to the manual labor of your family, as long as you save up word pictures for when everyone gets bored?
I think a man artist wrote that. No mother would ever imagine that art exempted you from the mundane.