Where the Wild Things Are

This article is about the 1963 children's book. For the film adaption, see Where the Wild Things Are (film).
Where the Wild Things Are

The book cover is an illustration of a sail boat coming into a forested shore. On the shore, sleeping against a tree, is a giant furry monster with bare human feet and the head of a bull. Above the illustration, written in uneven block capital letters against a white background, is the title of the book "Where the Wild Things Are" and below the illustration, "Story and pictures by Maurice Sendak".

First edition cover of Where the Wild Things Are
Author Maurice Sendak
Illustrator Maurice Sendak
Cover artist Maurice Sendak
Country United States
Language English
Genre Children's picture book
Publisher Harper & Row
Publication date
April 9, 1963
Media type Print (wide-format hardcover)
Pages 40
ISBN 0-06-025492-0 (25th anniversary ed., 1988)
OCLC 225496
LC Class PZ7.S47 Wh[1]

Where the Wild Things Are is a 1963 children's picture book by American writer and illustrator Maurice Sendak, originally published by Harper & Row. The book has been adapted into other media several times, including an animated short in 1974 (with an updated version in 1988); a 1980 opera; and a live-action 2009 feature-film adaptation, directed by Spike Jonze. The book had sold over 19 million copies worldwide as of 2009, with 10 million of those being in the United States.[2]

Sendak won the annual Caldecott Medal from the children's librarians in 1964, recognizing Wild Things as the previous year's "most distinguished American picture book for children".[3] It was voted the number one picture book in a 2012 survey of School Library Journal readers, not for the first time.[4]


This story of only 338 words focuses on a young boy named Max who, after dressing in his wolf costume, wreaks such havoc through his household that he is sent to bed without his supper. Max's bedroom undergoes a mysterious transformation into a jungle environment, and he winds up sailing to an island inhabited by malicious beasts known as the "Wild Things." After successfully intimidating the creatures, Max is hailed as the king of the Wild Things and enjoys a playful romp with his subjects. However, he starts to feel lonely and decides to return home, to the Wild Things' dismay. Upon returning to his bedroom, Max discovers a hot supper waiting for him.


Sendak began his career as an illustrator, but by the mid-1950s he had decided to start both writing and illustrating his own books.[5] In 1956, he published his first book for which he was the sole author, Kenny's Window (1956). Soon after, he began work on another solo effort. The story was supposed to be that of a child who, after a tantrum, is punished in his room and decides to escape to the place that gives the book its title, the "land of wild horses".[5] Shortly before starting the illustrations, Sendak realized he did not know how to draw horses and, at the suggestion of his editor, changed the wild horses to the more ambiguous "Wild Things", a term inspired by the Yiddish expression "vilde chaya" ("wild animals"), used to indicate boisterous children.[6]

He replaced the horses with caricatures of his aunts and uncles, caricatures that he had originally drawn in his youth as an escape from their chaotic weekly visits, on Sunday afternoons, to his family's Brooklyn home. Sendak, as a child, had observed his relatives as being "all crazy – crazy faces and wild eyes", with blood-stained eyes and "big and yellow" teeth, who pinched his cheeks until they were red.[5][7][8] These relatives, like Sendak's parents, were poor Jewish immigrants from Poland, whose remaining family in Europe were killed during the Holocaust while Sendak was in his early teens. As a child, however, he saw them only as "grotesques".[8]

When working on the 1983 opera adaptation of the book with Oliver Knussen, Sendak gave the monsters the names of his relatives: Tzippy, Moishe, Aaron, Emile and Bernard.[9]

Literary significance

According to Sendak, at first the book was banned in libraries and received negative reviews. It took about two years for librarians and teachers to realize that children were flocking to the book, checking it out over and over again, and for critics to relax their views.[10] Since then, it has received high critical acclaim. Francis Spufford suggests that the book is "one of the very few picture books to make an entirely deliberate and beautiful use of the psychoanalytic story of anger".[11] Mary Pols of Time magazine wrote that "[w]hat makes Sendak's book so compelling is its grounding effect: Max has a tantrum and in a flight of fancy visits his wild side, but he is pulled back by a belief in parental love to a supper 'still hot,' balancing the seesaw of fear and comfort."[12] New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis noted that "there are different ways to read the wild things, through a Freudian or colonialist prism, and probably as many ways to ruin this delicate story of a solitary child liberated by his imagination."[13] In Selma G. Lanes's book The Art of Maurice Sendak, Sendak discusses Where the Wild Things Are along with his other books In the Night Kitchen and Outside Over There as a sort of trilogy centered on children's growth, survival, change and fury.[14][15] He indicated that the three books are "all variations on the same theme: how children master various feelings – danger, boredom, fear, frustration, jealousy – and manage to come to grips with the realities of their lives."[14]

Based on a 2007 online poll, the National Education Association named the book one of its "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children".[16] Five years later School Library Journal sponsored a survey of readers which identified Where the Wild Things Are as top picture book.[4] Elizabeth Bird, the NYPL librarian who conducted the survey, observed that there was little doubt it would be voted number one and highlighted its designation by one reader as a watershed, "ushering in the modern age of picture books". Another called it "perfectly crafted, perfectly illustrated ... simply the epitome of a picture book" and noted that Sendak "rises above the rest in part because he is subversive". President Barack Obama has read it aloud for children attending the White House Easter Egg Roll in multiple years.[17]

Despite the book's popularity, Sendak refused to produce a sequel; four months before his death in 2012, he told comedian Stephen Colbert that one would be "the most boring idea imaginable".[18]


An animated short based on the book, which had taken five years to complete, was released in 1973,[2] directed by Gene Deitch and produced at Krátký Film, Prague, for Weston Woods Studios. Two versions were released: the original 1973 version, with narration by Allen Swift and a musique concrète score composed by Deitch himself; and an updated version in 1988 with new music and narration by Peter Schickele.[19]

In the 1980s, Sendak worked with British composer Oliver Knussen on a children's opera based on the book.[9] The opera received its first (incomplete) performance in Brussels in 1980; the first complete performance of the final version was given by the Glyndebourne Touring Opera in London in 1984. This was followed by its first U.S. performance in Saint Paul, Minnesota, in 1985 and the New York City premiere by New York City Opera in 1987. A concert performance was given at The Proms in the Royal Albert Hall in London in 2002. A concert production was produced by New York City Opera in spring 2011.[20]

In 1983, the Walt Disney Studio conducted a series of tests of computer-generated imagery created by Glen Keane and John Lasseter using as their subject Where the Wild Things Are.[21]

In 1999, Isadar released a solo piano musical composition titled "Where the Wild Things Are" which appeared on his album Active Imagination, inspired by the Sendak book. The composition was revisited and re-recorded in 2012 on Isadar's album, Reconstructed, with Grammy winner and founder of Windham Hill Records, William Ackerman, producing.[22]

The live-action film version of the book is directed by Spike Jonze. It was released on October 16, 2009.[23] The film stars Max Records as Max and features Catherine Keener as his mother, with Lauren Ambrose, Chris Cooper, Paul Dano, James Gandolfini, Catherine O'Hara and Forest Whitaker providing the voices of the principal Wild Things. The soundtrack was written and produced by Karen O and Carter Burwell. The screenplay was adapted by Jonze and Dave Eggers. Sendak was one of the producers for the film. The screenplay was novelized by Eggers as The Wild Things, published in 2009.

In 2012, indie rock quartet alt-J released the song "Breezeblocks", inspired in part by the book.[24] Alt-J keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton said the story and the song share similar ideas about parting with a loved one. "Breezeblocks" reached certified ARIA Gold status in Australia.[25]

See also


  1. "Where the wild things are". Library of Congress. Catalog Records. Retrieved June 17, 2013.
  2. 1 2 Turan, Kenneth (October 16, 2009). "'Where the Wild Things Are'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 12, 2012.
  3. "Caldecott Medal & Honor Books, 1938-Present". Association for Library Service to Children. American Library Association. Retrieved June 19, 2013.
      "The Randolph Caldecott Medal". Association for Library Service to Children. American Library Association. Retrieved May 27, 2009.
  4. 1 2 "SLJ's Top 100 Picture Books" (PDF). School Library Journal. 2012. Poster presentation of reader poll results. Retrieved June 17, 2013.
  5. 1 2 3 Warrick, Pamela (October 11, 1993). "Facing the Frightful Things". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 27, 2009.
  6. Shea, Christopher (October 16, 2009). "The Jewish lineage of "Where the Wild Things Are"". The Boston Globe. Brainiac. Retrieved January 28, 2012.
  7. "Wild Things: The Art of Maurice Sendak". Traditional Fine Arts Organization. April 26, 2005. Retrieved August 28, 2009.
  8. 1 2 Brockes, Emma (October 2, 2011). "Maurice Sendak: 'I Refuse To Lie to Children'". The Guardian. Retrieved October 5, 2011.
  9. 1 2 Burns, Tom, ed. (March 2008). "Maurice Sendak". Children's Literature Review. Detroit, MI: Gale. 131: 70. ISBN 978-0787696061. OCLC 792604122.
  10. Sendak, Maurice (October 16, 2009). Hart, Hugh, ed. "Review: Where the Wild Things Are Is Woolly, But Not Wild Enough (Sendak Says Wild Things Film as Feral as Book)". Wired.com. Retrieved December 30, 2009.
  11. Spufford, Francis (2002). The Child That Books Built: A Life of Reading (1st ed.). New York City: Metropolitan Books. p. 60. ISBN 978-0805072150. OCLC 50034806.
  12. Pols, Mary (October 14, 2009). "Where the Wild Things Are: Sendak with Sensitivity". Time. Retrieved October 18, 2009.
  13. Dargis, Manohla (October 16, 2009). "Some of His Best Friends Are Beasts". The New York Times. Retrieved October 16, 2009.
  14. 1 2 Lehmann-Haupt, Christopher (June 1, 1981). "Book Of The Times". The New York Times. Retrieved October 12, 2009.
  15. Gottlieb, Richard M. (2008). "Maurice Sendak's Trilogy: Disappointment, Fury, and Their Transformation through Art". Psychoanalytic Study of the Child. 63: 186–217. ISBN 978-0-300-14099-6. PMID 19449794.
  16. "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children". National Education Association. 2007. Retrieved August 22, 2012.
  17. Bird, Elizabeth (July 2, 2012). "Top 100 Picture Books #1: Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak". School Library Journal. Retrieved June 17, 2013.
  18. Carlson, Erin (January 25, 2012). "Maurice Sendak Calls Newt Gingrich an 'Idiot' in 'Colbert Report' Interview". The Hollywood Reporter. The Live Feed. Retrieved February 21, 2012.
  19. Johnston, Russell (March 12, 2009). "Nashville Scene – 'Bach in Black'". The Tennessean. p. 46.
  20. Wakin, Daniel J. (March 10, 2010). "For New York City Opera Season, Bernstein, Strauss and New Works". The New York Times. Retrieved March 19, 2013.
  21. Amidi, Amid (February 23, 2011). "Early CG Experiments by John Lasseter and Glen Keane". Cartoon Brew. Retrieved June 19, 2013.
  22. "Active Imagination (Solo Piano)". AllMusic. December 28, 1998. Retrieved March 12, 2012.
  23. Sperling, Nicole (September 11, 2008). "'Where the Wild Things Are' gets long-awaited release date". Entertainment Weekly. Inside Movies. Retrieved September 12, 2008.
  24. Podplesky, Azaria (December 18, 2012). "alt-J Taps Maurice Sendak and a Kate Middleton Look-Alike For 'Breezeblocks' Video". Seattle Weekly. Retrieved June 10, 2013.
  25. "ARIA Charts - Accreditations - 2013 Singles". Australian Recording Industry Association. Retrieved March 19, 2013.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Where the Wild Things Are.
Preceded by
The Snowy Day
Caldecott Medal recipient
Succeeded by
May I Bring a Friend?
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