“We’ll eat you up — we love you so!”

When I was a child, I knew where the wild things were. I was one of them.

When I read Maurice Sendak’s classic book — again and again — as a child, that was one of the most important things I took away from the text. I was a wild terror of a boy, after all. I never got sent to bed without supper, but I certainly got sent to bed, often and deservedly, for being so . . . “rambunctious” was the word my mother used when she was feeling generous. She could just as easily have yelled that I was a “WILD THING!” as Max’s mother does. And I was one.

And I didn’t care that I was annoying my mother, either. Someone might look at my childhood and adolescence and suspect that this was a subtler lesson I learned, whether I knew it or not: that parents are an unfair constraint on freedom and crazy abandon and the natural wildness of youth. That we need to run away from our parents, declare ourselves kings, make our own damn rules. I couldn’t necessarily say those people would be wrong; certainly much has been made of the not-so-coincidental timing of Where the Wild Things Are, given that the children of the early `60s grew into the rebellious teens of the late `60s, freedom loving Wild Things who disregarded everything that anyone of authority told them. We celebrate that generation, those hippies; I celebrate them, at least, and I did my level best to follow their example.

But the other thing I learned for sure was that a good imagination can tame the scariest nightmares. And I dived into my imagination. It became my escape from whatever pain and hardship, real or imagined, I encountered as a kid. I, too, could conjure up forests and oceans and strange, distant lands. I, too, could disappear “through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year.” In fact, I was so wild that when I drifted off into my private, silent world, my mother would often come looking for me, worried that I wasn’t making any noise.

These were the things I took from the book as a child. As a boy. As a Wild Thing.

Today, Maurice Sendak has died. And I confess I felt adrift for much of this morning, because Sendak was neither our Max nor our wild things — he was our boat, carrying us across those dark waters to the distant shores of our own imaginations. How will I get to the wild rumpus now?

So I pulled out our copy of Where the Wild Things Are — yes, we still own a copy — and reread the book. I laughed; I cried. I’m not just writing that. It happened. But then I read it again. And today, my adult self discovered a fascinating new lesson:

This book is all about love.

Let’s not sentimentalize Sendak any more than we already have. Those who followed his work — or at least those who caught his gloriously witty and cantankerous two-part appearance on The Colbert Report recently — know him for the no-holds-barred bitchy realist he was, always willing to tell the truth no matter how much it might pain us.

So when I say this book is about love, I don’t mean the hugs-and-teddy-bears love of Hallmark cards on Mother’s Day. I mean real love, strange and combative and consuming. Love that devours us.

“I’LL EAT YOU UP!” Max shouts at his mother, and so he’s sent to bed hungry. It comes across as an angry declaration of war, Max against his mom, and in the heat of battle she takes it that way. I took it that way as a kid.

But later, surrounded by giant creatures who revere Max and cater to his every wild whim, Max suddenly feels lonely. Sitting slumped inside his lordly tent, he realizes that he wants “to be where someone loved him best of all.” Frankly, he’s already in such a place, because when he decides to leave his new friends, they gather yowling on the shore, pleading with him to stay, and in doing so they echo Max’s declaration: “Oh please don’t go — we’ll eat you up — we love you so!”

We’ll eat you up.Β 

I can’t explain the psychology behind this — someone who can, feel free to chime in — but what parent hasn’t pretended to devour their children? Stuffing babies’ feet and fists into our mouths, we grin maniacally and coo, “Oh I could just eat you up!” It’s an expression of deep, consuming love, and as babies, we understood it that way — we LOVED when our mothers threatened to eat us up.

When Max first usurps the phrase — early adolescent role-reversal? — and shouts that he’ll eat up his mother, he might well mean it as a threat. But deep down, he understands its earlier, truer meaning: angry as he is, he loves his mother desperately. This is why, surrounded by devoted followers, he yearns for her alone, and it is the smell of her cooking that draws him back home.

Where his mother — who, annoyed though she may have been with Max, loves her son just as desperately and cannot send him to bed hungry — has set out his dinner for him after all. She, like my mother, missed his wildness and worried at his silence. And so they find each other’s love.Β “And it was still hot,” the book tells us.

True, this is no happy ending in the conventional children’s-story sense. There is no rushing into arms and reconciliation (as there is in the film version of the book). Max’s mother never appears in the book, and in the end, he gets away with his wildness.

But this is the reality of love. It’s not always out there in the open for us to see. It’s not always easy to sort out. Sometimes we can get everything we want and still feel lonely; sometimes we can feel guilt over our behavior and still get away with doing awful things. In that way, Where the Wild Things Are is not so much a children’s book as a human story for all ages.

Which is why we keep coming back to it, and will always come back to it. We might grow up and move past its early lessons; we might find out it means something we didn’t hear the first time. But we can always come back to it, and there it is waiting for us.

This morning, when I needed a little comforting, I came back to Where the Wild Things Are.

Published by Samuel Snoek-Brown

I write fiction and teach college writing and literature. I'm the author of the story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, the novel Hagridden, and the flash fiction chapbooks Box Cutters and Where There Is Ruin.

249 thoughts on ““We’ll eat you up — we love you so!”

  1. Yeah, the need to go back to where someone loved him best of all is a pretty powerful one, although I like just as much the message of courage in the “and he tamed them by staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once, and they were frightened, and called him the most Wild Thing of all.” (I just did that from memory, and my youngest child is 11. That’s how much I love this book.)

    Am so sad to hear he’s gone. I always think people like that should get to live forever. I guess he does, in a way.

    1. Thanks for commenting! (I love your blog, by the way. Have done for some time — I frequently read aloud from it to my wife.)

      I think today, having reread it a few times and compared all these different impressions I’ve had over the years, that my favorite thing about the book is how many different ways there are to love it. That it invites us to strike off on our own, that it reminds us of the love (and dinner!) waiting for us should we choose to return, that it shows us the wild things within and without ourselves, that it’s okay to be afraid of them (I love the image of Max on the boat, just before he reaches the land of the wild things, staring at a sea monster and recoiling in fear). I love this book so much.

      I’m not going to eat my copy, though. πŸ™‚

      1. I’m so glad to hear that you enjoy my blog. I enjoy yours as well!
        Another one of my favorites of Sendak’s is In the Night Kitchen, especially the illustration when Milo’s just kind of perched on the milk bottle watching the cooks dance around. We went through two copies of both of those books they were so tattered and torn from all of the use. And I had, and still have, them both memorized. Another favorite is Mercer Meyer’s “What do you do with a kangaroo?” The girl has so much chutzpah!

        Oh, and I saw Esau! What a hoot! (Read it really fast, without breathing: IsawEsaukissingKatethefactisweallthreesaw,cuzIsawhimandhesawmeandshesawIsawEsau)

      1. Thank you! I love going back to my childhood, but that’s partly because I don’t have far to go: much as I feel like an old man sometimes, I’m still just a great big kid. πŸ™‚

  2. Saw your post in “Freshly Pressed” – thanks for blogging about this. I haven’t read Where the Wild Things Are in a long time – my kids are still too young for it – but I remember reading it night after night and intensely studying the pictures when I was little. I also loved his “In the Night Kitchen” as well.

    1. Thanks, Alan! And thanks for following the blog, too — I suspect I’m going to feel a bit overwhelmed when I check stats in the morning, but I’m hoping to keep up with everyone.

      I know kids grow up too fast as it is, but here’s hoping yours get old enough for the wild rumpus really quick! πŸ™‚

  3. this is great, makes me sad and happy at the same time. I am a mother and what you wrote resonates with me as a daughter and as a mother. thanks for posting since I haven’t read this book.

      1. can you please help me, I was not able to uncheck notify me of follow up comments via e-mail. my mail is flooded by comments. Pls uncheck or delete my comment. I am not very familiar on how to do it. thanks very much and sorry for the trouble.

  4. Wow… I could still remember where I read the book the very first time!! And I was still so little and yet very much enchanted by the story that totally fulfilled one of my wild imaginations!! Thanks for blogging about this… It certainly feels good to have my childhood memories back from time to time πŸ™‚

    1. Thanks for the comment! It’s funny, a part of the book is about how you can be surrounded by friends and still feel lonely, yet here I was feeling lonely this morning and now I’m surrounded by friends! I swear, that book is magic.

      Thanks for sharing your childhood. πŸ™‚

  5. What a great post. It’s wonderful to revisit childhood books. I’ve got several on my shelves. Some, I use for teaching. Others, I use teaching as an excuse for me owning copies.

    And how glorious are those “aha!” moments when you’re re-reading them!

    1. It was particularly glorious today: I tutor a third-grader in literature and writing, so we got to have a good conversation about the book today. Her mother enjoyed the conversation, too: “I’ve always read that as a mother,” she said. “I didn’t think about it from a child’s perspective!” And here I was finally seeing the book as an adult!

      Thanks for commenting, Thesaurus. And teach on, noble educator! Hope life is grand down there in Melbourne. πŸ™‚

  6. I πŸ’œ you! You’re a good man, Mr. Snoek-Brown. I can’t even begin to tell you how much what you’ve blogged and this book mean to me. Unfathomable. 😒

    May the Universe smile on you and your’s forever and a day. I could just eat you up!

  7. I must admit that I started to cry when reading this post (unfortunately for me I’m sitting in the middle of a cafe….I’ll blame it on a scratched contact or something πŸ˜‰ ). My mother bought this book for me when I was about 4, but the pictures scared me so much that one night that I thew it in the trash.

    Years later, after the ‘monster’ in me had settled (I was a nightmare from aged 7 to about 13), my mother gave me a new copy for my birthday. I thumbed through the pages and the book took on a completely new meaning. Obviously as a grown up, the pictures no longer frightened me, but instead, I found I empathaised with the main character. That need for freedom. To be one’s own person. Yet still wanting that love of a parent and, to an extent, wanting those boundaries. I suppose you push to see how far you can get. Perhaps it would have done me a bit of good during my rough adolescent stage to have a book like this in my life.

    I taught for a number of years and it was interesting to see how that age group yearns for freedom and the ability to run amuck. I suppose the trick is to find a happy medium, to allow them that freedom while harnessing the energy and channeling it into something constructive. The outcome is usually quite remarkable.

    1. Yes! You’re the second person to mention how scared they were of the pictures. I was scared, too. But I caught on fairly quickly (I think) to Max’s ability to tame those monsters, so I felt I could too. (I quickly became a fan of horror stories!)

      I think that part of the book that encourages us, as kids, to reject parental authority and to go running wild into the night probably did me a lot of good as an adolescent, though it certainly grayed my parents’ hair fast! It’s probably not surprising, though, that this was the part of the book the resonated with me when I was in my most rebellious stage; it’s also probably not surprising that I see now the warm, quiet invitation home. Maybe Thomas Wolfe is wrong: from Max’s perspective, anyway, you CAN always go home again. πŸ™‚

      Also: you live in Dubai? Wow! We lived in Abu Dhabi from 2008 to 2011. We still have good friends there and in Dubai. Hope you’re enjoying your UAE adventure!

  8. This is a gorgeous evocation of a book that settled itself pretty firmly into my brain as a child. It’s always a little breath-snatching to hear someone else’s personal response to something you (I) take quite this personally, and I loved it. πŸ™‚

  9. Wow, this is really interesting… inspiring..

    Could you please follow me?

    I just made an account and im a student of 10th grade, but i really need lots of people to follow me for my personal project… otherwise I’ll fail everything! So please follow me! It will take you a second to press “follow”. PLEASEEE
    Thank you! πŸ™‚

    1. Interesting. What’s the assignment? I can’t imagine anyone failing for NOT having followers. I’d have failed a long time ago if I’d had such an assignment! But good luck with your project, whatever it is. πŸ™‚

      1. It’s the personal project for the IB Diploma… I have to explore the benifits of positive thinking and try to apply them to my community… It is useful for university, but they are really picky! They want me to have at least between 100-500 views and some followers as well… I know this is crazy but it’s all true! Thank you anyway! πŸ™‚

      2. I get it — it’s like a test of your marketing/writing skills? Like, if you’re doing it right, then, statistically, you should have a certain number of views and a few followers? Interesting! And hey, I’m all about positive thinking! I even have a second blog all about smiley faces! So yeah, seriously, good luck with your project! πŸ™‚

  10. Hi Samuel πŸ™‚ This was one of my favourite childhood books too. I recently rediscovered it reading it to my 12 week old daughter, who gets a real kick out of the pictures. I came across the same lovely conclusion about the book, that had never occured to me before. I used to read it as a child, now reading it as a mother – you do certainly read it from a COMPLETELY different point of view.

    We love it so much it was on our “little loves” list for last week – thanks for the smile today! http://inkedincolour.wordpress.com/2012/05/04/this-weeks-little-loves/

    Congrats on the freshly pressed! Enjoy the hits! xo


    1. Wow! You’re the second person so far who’d recently posted about Where the Wild Things Are, only to find that post relevant in an entirely new way. Thanks for sharing the link — it’s a great post. (All you parents reading and commenting on this: you might want to check out Sash’s blog — it seems pretty cool.)

  11. He made what I considered to be my all time favorite book to read as a kid. Maurice will be forever missed but never forgotten what he accomplished.

  12. This is absolutely fantastic, thank you so much for sharing your great interpretations of this book. I have only watched the film, however the first time, I cries literally like a baby all the way through, and I did not really now why, it was almost as though it tapped into some sub concious childhood memory that I had forgotton, but that it was reasurring the 8 year old me that it is ok to be angry and sad and lonely and misunderstood, because there is love. One of my favourite parts of the book is when Max is asked ‘will you keep out all the sadness?’ and you see all the melancholy loneliness in all the characters eyes, it was something that they all shared, behind their anger – and he replies ‘I have a sadness shield that will keep out all the sadness, and it’s big enough for all of us.’ It’s silly I know, but it makes me cry just thinking about it! Thanks for a great piece, and RIP Maurice Sendak.

    1. Yeah, that movie is great. It’s an entirely separate entity, really, more inspired by the book than based on it. But one thing it does get right is the way it taps into the heart of childhood, simultaneously scared of the dark, strange world and bold enough to charge into it screaming. πŸ™‚

  13. Great post! I can’t help but feel sentimental. I remember scanning through the pages of this book as a kid, absolutely terrified by the pictures. Those “monsters” are now a source of comfort, though. RIP Maurice Sendak. You’ll live forever, in the wild hearts of those who aren’t afraid to dream- and in the children inside us who struggle and yearn to be loved.

  14. Reblogged this on Creations and Inspirations and commented:
    I have no thoughts of my own these days…therefore I borrow the wise words and heartfelt sentiments of Samuel Snoek-Brown to express what I am unable to, in regards to the loss of beloved author Maurice Sendak.

  15. A wise summer Librarian I knew at my elementary school would let me shelve books for her – me at the tender age of 6 going on 7 – and I remember sitting on the floor in front of the S’s completely enthralled by the pictures in this book, recognizing the moral of the story, and totally forgetting the book need to go back onto the shelf.
    And my realizing that – I could write a book some day.
    Maurice Sendak, author, illustrator, and in June of 1964, giver of aspirations to a little writer, go now into that great wild author’s island in the universe and know how you’ve touched so many of us.

    1. What a great story! I’m married to a second-generation librarian; my wife specialized in youth lit while getting her MLS, and her mother is a retired public-school librarian who still has an extensive collection of children’s books. I spent as much spare time as I could in the library when I was a kid, so I was definitely down there on the floor like you were, but I never had the privilege of shelving books (yes, I said privilege — I love shelving books) until I got to help out my wife and mother-in-law in my mother-in-law’s school library. Sure enough, even as an adult, I still got caught sitting on the floor in the children’s section, flipping through books. πŸ™‚

      Congrats on your story collection. I’ll have to check that out!

  16. I don’t remember reading this book as a child, but I’ve read it to my kids often. And it’s a book that definitely proves powerful between my son and me. He’s certainly had his moments of wildness and I’ve definitely had those moments of not letting him go to bed without knowing he is loved. That’s the great thing about children’s books. My kids won’t listen to my rambling on, but they learn great messages through books. Nice post. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  17. Found your post on Freshly Pressed. I don’t think there was a better way to put it, his death is truly a loss to literature, to the world and to future generations. Thankyou so much for this post.

  18. My husband and I heard the announcement and past interviews with Maurice Sendak on the way home yesterday. We both laughed and cried. He was funny, wise, cantankerous, and TRUE. That’s why we love his books as kids AND as adults. You’ve said it so clearly and beautifully — thank you!

  19. Wow…Thank you for sharing your expeiences with the book. I remember reading it as a child too, and reading your blog I found myself drawing so many parrallels to my own experiences with Where the Wild Things Are. I will definitely be looking for a copy and re reading at as an adult.

    1. I think for books that most remind me of myself as a child, this is probably at the top of the list. Followed very, very closely by Calvin and Hobbes (who, let’s face it, wouldn’t be possible without Max). πŸ™‚

  20. “…real love, strange and combative and consuming. Love that devours us…” beautifully written. This story is one of those stories that I never get tired of. It’s very complex and interesting that I seem to never get bored of. They did make a movie of this book right?

    1. Yes, they did. Spike Jonze adapted and directed it, with Sendak’s personal blessing. It’s a good film, and I really enjoyed it, but it’s utterly unlike the book. I can’t really even think of them as related anymore, actually. And, as is usually the case, I still think the book is better. πŸ˜‰

    1. Yes, do! I’d love to know what you think of it, actually. So many people who comment on this book or on Sendak’s passing have read it — as children, to their children, or both — but I would love to hear from someone who’s reading it now for the first time. That would be awesome. πŸ™‚

  21. I’ve owned “Where The Wild Things Are” ever since I was a kid. My parents no longer remember even buying it for me, yet I still own my copy (and even have Max tattooed on my arm). It was/is an amazing story that I will be passing onto my 3yr old son once he’s ready. RIP Maurice.

    1. Awesome! I should totally get one of the wild things as a tattoo. I was just telling my wife the other day that I want to get some new ink. This might have just become a contender. Thanks for the idea!

  22. Thanks for this great blog of yours on Maurice Sendak. One of my favorite quotes is the following! β€œOnce a little boy sent me a charming card with a little drawing on it. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters β€” sometimes very hastily β€” but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, β€œDear Jim: I loved your card.” Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, β€œJim loved your card so much he ate it.” That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.”
    ― Maurice Sendak

    Maurice Sendak: I love you so! How about you?

  23. I was a huge fan of this book growing up as well. And like you, not for the lessons it taught but for the imagination it encouraged. I see people describe themselves on Twitter and Facebook and even here on WordPress all the time as dreamers, and I admit I’m part of the club.

    For years (and even still) I find myself lost in my imagination when the moment is silent and I have some time to think. And when I reflect on the creative spirit this book had, I realize it was magic. I realize my imagination ran wild because I was a reader of books. I was able to get lost because of the worlds that I knew so well. Authors like Maurice Sendak, and Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss must have known us all so well to create such wonderful, amazing, whimsical worlds we’d remember for a lifetime.

    That they taught valuable lessons became my “ah-ha!” moment years later when I read those same books to my children. I hope they feel the same way about the adventures as I do now. A great tribute, thanks for sharing this…

    1. Yes! I think that’s the true genius of a great children’s author: that we can enjoy it as children and still find so much pleasure in so many different ways as adults. I suppose that’s true of all great books (I remember being utterly confused by For Whom the Bell Tolls when I read it in high school, and I thought Hemingway was just crazy, but now it’s one of my all-time favorite novels).

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting. πŸ™‚

  24. So perfectly put. It’s interesting, my daughter (now 6, with whom I’ve shared this book numerous times over the years) always loved to be the one who read (often, yelled) the “eat you up!” line, frequently acting it out when she did so. And now to ponder a deeper meaning with it makes it even more special. Though I’ve always held the love connotation in the book, as you touched on; the pull between mother and child, ever unbroken, no matter the distance (whether physical, or emotional). Thank you for sharing your thoughts in a way that touches so many of us who also hold this book so dear.

  25. “he was our boat”
    It gave me chills, good chills. And then, later, as I read further, tears. I forgot how much this book resonated with me. Thank you for illuminating it again. :’)

    1. Aw, thanks! That was a kind of revelation for me. I was working on the post and taking photos of the book, and then I noticed that empty boat on the cover and the sad wild thing on the shore. That’s when I started crying, too. Glad to know I wasn’t alone in that.

  26. Brilliantly wrote (and I’ve always loved Maurice’s artwork, although I’ve never got around to reading the actual stories)
    I see where you’re coming from, and I’m no psychologist, but doesn’t kissing stem from the early, primate form of feeding our mates? There’s more to it than just because it’s a pleasure. There’s actual real bonding reasons to it. Food and sex are very closely relates as I think are hate and love – they’re all sensations and pleasures. And we forget that we are (well some of us) just tamed wild animals at the end of it all. πŸ™‚ Congrats on being FP’d

    1. Ooh, I hadn’t thought about the issues of touch and bonding between mothers and children. (Or any parent and child — which reminds me, I still want to see the movie Chimpanzee.) You don’t get more intimate and touching than through devouring a loved one! Nice thoughts, there. πŸ™‚

  27. What a wonderful tribute and thoughtful analysis, interpreting the text yet not picking it apart. I think you’re exactly right about love and how/why/what Sendak said about it through this story. Beautifully done. I’m too old to have been part of the Sendak generation, plus don’t have kids, but I love his books anyway and am a bit sad to hear he’s gone and glad that he lived and gave so much.

    1. Thanks! Yeah, his passing is definitely a blow to the whole literary community. I remember feeling this way when Madeleine L’Engle died, and I flat-out bawled when Kurt Vonnegut died. Sendak — he kind of caught me off guard. I’d forgotten what a huge impact these early, early books had on my development as a reader and a writer. But you’re right: he left us with a lot to work with, so his legacy will always be with us. πŸ™‚

  28. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!
    This is my go-to gift when any friend has a baby. This book should be in every child’s library- one of my favorites. πŸ™‚
    Thanks for writing!
    Stop by theusualbliss.com sometime!

  29. This is such a great insight on the theme of the book! It’s wonderful how you connected to this book as a kid, and to compare now as an adult with a new perspective. I’ve been re-reading some of my childhood books lately and have been gaining a new perspective on them!

    1. Thank you, Audrey! You know, now that you bring it up, rereading old childhood favorites would be a great blog project. I might have a do a series on that. Bridge to Terabithia, here I come! πŸ™‚

      1. Talk to Aidan, he just finished reading that book recently and began his own adventures.

    1. Thanks! It’s funny that you call it a Valentine: I was looking back over what I’d written — before it got Freshly Pressed — and realized that in some ways, I’d sort of written a Mother’s Day card. πŸ˜‰

      1. This is “The Wild Things’ Mom” aka Sam Snoek as the Wild Thing. I told him sometimes I wanted to eat him up “in a loving way” and other times I wanted to eat him up “in an I’ve had it! way”. Now we get to enjoy second generation of “the wild thing” (namely grandson Aidan who is almost a carbon copy of his Uncle Smiley – Sam).

      2. Ladies and gentlemen: my mom! (Hi, Mom!)

        In case anyone’s curious, she still comes and checks on me if I’ve been too quiet for too long. Moms never stop checking. πŸ˜‰

  30. What an nice read. In spite of it being an analysis and review of a book, it never stopped being this casual, quiet discussion about the impact a children’s book can have in adulthood. Thank you very much for sharing, and congratulations for being Freshly Pressed.

  31. Sendak told this story about his favorite fan mail: He always read the letters that children sent him, and to one boy he responded with an original Sendak drawing. Who wouldn’t like that? This particular wild thing of a boy (his mother tattled to Sendak) loved the drawing so much that he ate it. Poetry!

    1. Yes! On NPR’s Fresh Air, right? (I love that program — Teri Gross is awesome.) That story is wonderful, and it’s probably my favorite thing people were sharing online yesterday. Thanks for posting it here, Jenny; I was hoping someone would! πŸ™‚

    1. Exactly!

      And yeah, I don’t know that the movie ruined the book — I generally give filmmakers a lot of leeway in interpreting a book, because they’re such different genres, and to be fair, Spike Jonze did have Sendak’s personal blessing — but I was definitely feeling protective of the original yesterday: I did NOT enjoy rewatching the trailer for the film, because it did remind me how much the film got “wrong.”

      1. I thought it was more like a dark psychology class on childhood fears than a heartwarming children’s film based on a beloved children’s book, personally. I would’ve left the theater if I didn’t have to depend on someone else for a ride home!

      2. Yes, absolutely. I remember being quite scared by the book — those monsters were terrifying when I was a kid! — but it’s not necessarily how I wanted to see the book on film. I think your idea that the movie played a little too heavily with the darker edges of child psychology is pretty spot-on. I think that may be both why I liked the film and why I still have problems with it and can’t love it as much as the book. Good call.

  32. A beautiful ode to a wonderful children’s author. I still wild-rumpus with the grand-children, and live out the heart of the fantasy with a new generation of Max’s.

  33. I, too, was mesmerized by Where the Wild Things Are as a child. But it wasn’t until I became a parent that I completely fell in love with it. As Mama to my own Wild Thing, I have learned to love the imagination, independence, irreverence and quiet tenderness in the heart and spirit of even the wildest little boys (and men).

    My son and daughter have their own copies of the book in their own rooms now. I purchased a paperback copy a couple of years ago in order to tear out the pages and frame the illustrations in the kids’ playroom. I damn-near recited the entire book to a co-worker who had never heard of it before yesterday. Love, love, LOVE it! Thank you so much for sharing a piece of your Wild Thing heart in this blog.

  34. this is by far the best thing i’ve read about sendak’s passing. you so perfectly captured why he was amazing and his loss will be so missed. he really was the boat.
    reading ‘where the wild things are’ was such a comfort for me, it helped reassure me that i was loved, even if it didn’t feel like that all of the time.

    also, do you watch 30 rock? last week liz got so much flak for saying she wanted to eat tracy’s baby. but seriously, who hasn’t been compelled to gnaw on a cute chubby baby leg??

    1. Thank you so much!

      I’m a casual fan of 30 Rock — I think it’s hilarious, but for some reason I never seek it out; I only wind up watching it when I land on it while channel surfing (and I don’t channel surf that often). But now I’m definitely looking up last week’s episode. Thanks for mentioning it! πŸ™‚

  35. great piece. what an excellent interpretation of the book. β€œOh I could just eat you up! It’s an expression of deep, consuming love” – how true are your words! it’s the sort of consumption that kids understand to be lovable and adults can’t resist. well deserved of freshly pressed!

    1. I liked the film. Really, I did. But it was VERY different from the book, and I’m seeing lately just how different. I won’t say it’s different in the bad way, but I have been feeling protective of the book lately. If you love the book, watch the film with a VERY open mind. πŸ˜‰

  36. A couple of years ago, in a sentimental mood, my son gave me a copy of Where the Wild Things Are for Christmas. Our original copy had been worn to pieces. It’s wonderful to know that at 27 my son still loves that book. I will treasure the copy he gave me always as well as the memories of reading it to him and his sisters. Maurice Sendak was a genius, IMHO. “real love, strange and combative and consuming. Love that devours us.” Oh you have hit the nail on the head with that one.

  37. Great post. You go right to the heart of the matter with WTWTA– those beautiful ambiguities, the way that a book that seems at first to have little to say about love, turns out to have that difficult emotion at its core, all complexities intact. Your comments help me see it in the company of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, and, um, pretty much everything by Sondheim. Thanks for broadening my understanding.

  38. what a great post, I remembering reading it as a young girl but it didn’t resonate with me, I was the youngest of 4 girls, I was anything but ‘a wild thing’, that came later. I was more of a Theodor Geisel girl. But when I bought the book shortly after my first son was born (no one is too young to be read to) it hit me, hard. It touched me in a way that it hadn’t as a little girl. I remember telling my boys, they could pick any book they wanted, but they had to sit and listen while I read Where The Wild Things Are. Some books were written to be read aloud. Thank for a wonderful post.

    1. What a wonderful, wonderful comment, Cheryl! I mentioned this in another comment, but I was talking about this book with a third-grader I tutor and my student’s mother. The mom mentioned that she had initially only seen it through the eyes of a parent and thought that Max was terribly misbehaved, but she had come to a new appreciation of it. Still, she said, “It must be a boy’s book.” I can see how it would be difficult for a young girl to connect to such a typically “boy” story (though my third-grade tutee is a girl and she loves the book), but man oh man, does that book have layers, and you’re so right about the different ways it can resonate. It’s got something for everyone — we just might have to approach it at the right time in our lives. πŸ™‚

      1. I don’t think Max was ‘terribly misbehaved’, I raised 3 boys, I know from ‘misbehaving’. As my boys grew up and I read the book many times, I came to realize that boys are misunderstood. Raised primarily by Moms they aren’t given space to be β€˜raucous’; to be loud and stomp to make funny faces and funny smells LOL. Not that they should be ‘wild things all the time’ But perhaps Mr. Sendak knew what it was like to be confined and wanted to give space & place for shenanigans, even if only in ones imagination.
        I think your blog is wonderful and creative. I will enjoy reading my way through it.

      2. Again, wonderfully put, Cheryl! And I hope you enjoy the blog. My mom gave me plenty of room to be creative (and only slightly less room to misbehave!), so if this blog of mine is “wonderful and creative,” I’ll gladly give her a healthy piece of the credit. πŸ™‚

  39. I read Where the Wild Things Are for the very first time to my 5 year old son last night, and he rather liked it! I’ll admit that I only read it once as a child, and never connected with the story until recently – probably because I’m now a parent myself. My favourite book by Sendak was definitely Outside Over There because I was attracted to the darkly gothic tones of the story. I was always hunting after ghost stories or something supernatural! I still have my copy of Outside Over There to this day. To be sure, my son will certainly be adding a copy of Where the Wild Things Are to our libraries! These are books you can return to again and again – something you so clearly state, and so well. Sendak’s stories leave a deep impression on your soul from a young age, and will be admired for their maturity and careful thought for a very long time.

    1. Ooh, I love Outside Over There, but for some reason I’d forgotten about it until you brought it up just now! Thanks!

      I definitely had a dark streak and loved those Gothic ghost stories when I was kid! Still do, actually…. πŸ™‚

  40. Great post. I figured Maurice Sendak would make an appearance on Freshly Pressed today, and I admit I launched my own writing-themed blog yesterday with a Sendak-related post, and hoped, in some crazy scenario, I would be lucky enough to wind up Freshly Pressed on my first day! Didn’t happen, of course — but it’s worth it having stumbled upon your stuff, and your post was great. And to be honest, much of the reason I’ve started blogging is to connect with other writers, agents, editors, etc. So let me know if there are particular blogs that have been helpful for you as a writer — and of course feel free to read me yourself (duh). Thanks again for the post! Sendak will certainly be missed — he taught me to embrace my inner Wild Thing.

    1. Thanks for reading, Nicholas! I enjoyed your post on Sendak, too (for anyone else looking for Nicholas’s post, it’s here). Like your site, too.

      I have a whole list of authors, agents, editors, and publishers I love — many of whom I know personally — in that long list of links on the right-hand sidebar. I know the list looks ridiculously lengthy, but seriously, I only put people there if I really admire them. So that would be a great starting place if you’re looking to connect with a larger writing community. And I’m a HUGE proponent of the writing community: it’s an aspect of numbers 7-11 on my Fourteen Principles for Creative Writers.

      1. Thanks so much for the response, and for the follow! I’m definitely perusing your list of agents/writers/editors. Have already started following a couple.

  41. I think we express love by “eating” in many ways. “The way to a man’s heart is his stomach”, “If music be the food of love, play on. -Shakespeare”, “Taste and see that the Lord is good. – Psalm 34:8”. The irony is we make a show of consuming the one we love, but we are the one consumed by the need to love them. Wonderful post. Got me thinking. I’m eating it up. (New McDonald’s jingle?) ~Regards, Dan

  42. Of all the Sendak inspired blog posts I’m glad it was yours that became ‘Pressed’, wish I could express myself so eloquently – Thank You for doing it for me!

    1. Thank you! It’s funny, I was thinking a similar thing yesterday: of all my blog posts that could have gotten Freshly Press, I’m glad it was the one on Maurice Sendak. Feels appropriate to direct all that love his way. πŸ™‚

  43. A beautiful tribute to a man has touched so many lives. It always makes me sad to think that there are those out there who wish to eradicate imagination and honesty.

    I love the book as well and I love that it’s passed on to future generations! Congrats on freshly pressed, it’s certainly well deserved πŸ™‚

  44. What a lovely tribute. You remind me of my childhood, reading ‘Where the Wild Things Are.” I’ve been rereading the book, and thinking back on my childhood memories. It’s a book that still enthralls children – and their parents! I haven’t seen the movie so far, but I’ve heard good things about it. The thing that makes me really wants to see it is that Spike Jonze apparently said that he wanted Maurice Sendak’s approval of his movie and that he really tried to convey the atmosphere and the message of the book. Now I have to really go see the movie

    1. Thank you!

      I really liked the film, partly because it did get Sendak’s personal approval. But the book is so open to interpretation and is so personal for each reader that I feel Spike Jonze’s interpretation skews a bit too far from my own. What we’re seeing isn’t our childhood favorite, but his childhood favorite. It’s a different lens to look through. I still think it’s a good film, but right now I’m still holding tight to my version of the book. πŸ˜‰

      Do see the movie, though. Really, it is a good film.

      1. Huh, interesting. But I think that’s true with all well-loved books – you imagine the characters a certain way. You have ideas what they sound like, what they look like and how they act. And it’s really all about your imagination. Then someone comes and creates a filmed version, and they interpret it differently and you either get used to it or hate it. Sometimes you love it so much that the filmed version almost replaces your views. That happened to me with Lord of the Rings. If I think about what Aragorn is like I think of Viggo Mortenson’s Aragorn. Then there are the interpretation that you enjoy, but you still think about the actor and the director and how they just don’t have that transformative effect.

        The same thing happens with audiobooks – with those I’m mostly affected by the voice of the characters and how the narrator depicts the book. Sometimes it’s an improvement, sometimes it’s not…

      2. Yes, exactly! I’ve said in other comments here that I generally give filmmakers a lot of leeway in interpreting a book. Film and print lit are two completely different storytelling media, so of course a film is going to be different than my interpretation of a book. I don’t recall where I read this, but not long ago someone a lot smarter than me was talking about that film is a purely visual medium — you sit and you watch — but print lit is an interactive medium because the sights and sounds and emotions of the story take place entirely in the reader’s head and is therefore customized to the reader’s background and experience. I don’t know that that’s completely true, because I think film can still have some of those effects (come to think of it, I think this comparison was from either Scott McCloud or Alan Moore, in discussing how comics manage the best of both imaginative print lit and visual film; I would argue that children’s lit like Where the Wild Things Are accomplishes the same bridge), but it’s definitely true that stories usually look different in my head than they do on film, and I usually accept that. I accepted it with the Spike Jonze film, and I still do. I’m just clinging to my private version of the story lately. But I’ll go back to the Spike Jonze version of the story someday, and I’ll love it. πŸ™‚

      3. Oh, and audio books! Good call! I once listened to an audiobook of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love that sounded like it was being read by John Fiedler. I adore John Fiedler, but his is NOT the voice I hear Raymond Carver stories in! πŸ™‚

        Yesterday, another reader re-blogged my post but added a lot of excellent commentary. And also this reading of Where the Wild Things Are by Christopher Walken: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KKNaYlzssbc Hilarious! But again, NOT the voice I hear in my head! πŸ™‚

  45. Thank you so much for writing about Where The Wild Things Are. I absolutely loved this book growing up, and was so sad to hear about Sendak’s passing. Like you, re-reading the book now makes me both smile and tear up a little. You never really appreciate how big of an impression certain childhood books make on you until you’re older – this was definitely such a book. Congrats on FP!

  46. Whew…lots of wonderful comments, so forgive me if someone mentioned this, but I’m sure you love the quote by Maurice that mentions the little boy who ate his card:)

      1. When I heard about his death on NPR last night I was a bit sad but thankful for what he’s given us.

  47. I really enjoyed reading this, but I am still giggling over this part, it’s most excellent:

    “We’ll eat you up.

    I can’t explain the psychology behind this β€” someone who can, feel free to chime in β€” but what parent hasn’t pretended to devour their children? Stuffing babies’ feet and fists into our mouths, we grin maniacally and coo, β€œOh I could just eat you up!” It’s an expression of deep, consuming love, and as babies, we understood it that way β€” we LOVED when our mothers threatened to eat us up.”

  48. Sadness came over me when I heard of his passing. I had no idea that he was in his 80’s as his writing made him feel oh so young at heart. I appreciate you tribute to this fine book and the man who wrote it. I am sure he is smiling! Thanks.

  49. Congrats on making it to ‘Freshly Pressed’!

    I know I want to ‘eat up’ my 9 month old niece because I do ‘love her so’, her little giggles and gurgles, dimples and drool, diapers and baby powder, all of it! πŸ™‚

    1. Thank you! I’m so glad to hear this, too — so many parents have mentioned their desire to “eat up” their kids, but you’re the first to mention a niece! I could certainly “eat up” my nieces and nephews, that’s for sure! πŸ™‚

      1. You’re welcome! Right now my nieces are the closest thing I have to having children of my own. Both of them are very precious to me. πŸ™‚

  50. Hi there, I loved your post! This is my brother’s favorite book and its a sad thing that Maurice Sendak has died. And we still have our copy from when he was a little boy! And it is one of the greatest stories from our childhood! Thank you so much for writing about it…

  51. Too many quotable quotes in this post! I haven’t read nor watched Where the Wild Things Are. Maybe I was too young when the book first came out, but now I am very much intrigued. This made me realize how much I miss my mom’s wildness. I’ve been living far away from her for almost three years now. Thankfully, I get by. But I still miss her wildness. πŸ™‚

    1. Wow! Too many quotable quotes? Thanks so much!

      You know, it’s almost Mother’s Day — maybe you’ll get to enjoy a little of her wildness by phone or Skype or even a letter. Or by memory. Whatever it takes! And do track down the book: you’ll love it. πŸ™‚

  52. Not that you need more comments here, but I felt compelled to write. I too was saddened by Sendak’s death. Your post actually brought a tear to my eye, which is rare. I think I may have to pull out my son’s copy of Where the Wild Things Are for a re-read tonight…

    1. Thank you, Melissa! Tears like this can be a good thing, I think. Once, during a meditation session, I started crying for absolutely no reason — no emotions caused the tears, and no emotions resulted from the tears. It was weird. I asked one of my Buddhist dharma teachers what had caused that, and she just smiled and said, “Karma arising.” She offered more complicated ideas after that simple answer, but the gist was that that: we have things we need to work through, and sometimes that emerges as tears, and that’s a beautiful thing. I thought of that when I was crying over Sendak, because I couldn’t tell whether I was sad that he was or happy that he’d been here and given us so much. I realized there wasn’t much difference, and those tears felt necessary either way. πŸ™‚

  53. I just shared this beautiful post on Facebook, I loved the way you spoke about the book. Thanks for a beautiful thought to start my day with my kids!

  54. What a beautiful response to such a beautiful story! Not only is this book (and the amazing movie interpretation) a great way to show children the importance of love, life and enjoying everything that comes their way….it teaches respect. Respecting yourself and the others that are in your life. I remember as a child my mother reading the book to me. At first I was scared! I didn’t understand the concepts and ideas and instead went to sleep fearing a “wild thing” was going to crawl out from underneathy my bed. Rereading the book a few times throughout my life, each time I found myself gathering new meaning from the text and vivid pictures. Hearing about the loss of such and influential author, it reminds me to appreciate the little things in life, value your loved ones…and above all love one another.

    1. Yes! “Respecting yourself and the others that are in your life.” I hadn’t thought to express it that way, but yes yes yes: this is the dual –and outwardly conflicting but ultimately complementary — message that makes this book so classic!

      I was scared of the monsters at first, too. I think I thought the place where the wild things were was real, and I remember at some point worrying that they’d find a way to follow Max back into our world. It wasn’t long, though, before I focused instead on Max’s ability to subdue the wild things! πŸ™‚

  55. I wish that I had this book as a child or even as a young mother. I am thankful that my daughter has it for her son. My grandson is a little wild thing. Good to know he will have the ability to go back to it later in life. Thanks for the post, it hit my heart and brought me a tear.

  56. The message and writing in this book is powerful and you have personalised it so touchingly. Congratulations on being freshly pressed that has introduced me to your writing.

      1. That’s too “glass is half full” for me right now. Let me grieve, man!

        No, the best way to remember Sendak is to read his books to my kids πŸ™‚

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting! It’s a weird sensation, isn’t it, to feel so grateful that we can always go back to the book while simultaneously lamenting the loss of the author? 😦

  57. This was just excellent. That book always reminds me of The Simpsons whenever I see it. The show had an episode about it in one of their recent seasons which I really, really liked – that’s why. Either ways, you’ve got some great points in this post and I loved this line especially:

    “We might grow up and move past its early lessons; we might find out it means something we didn’t hear the first time. But we can always come back to it, and there it is waiting for us.”

    Thank you for writing such an amazing post. I’ve subscribed to your blog. Warm regards.


    1. Thanks! Somehow I missed that Simpsons episode — I almost never watch them on tv anymore, though I try to keep up online — but I’ll definitely track it down. Thanks for the tip! πŸ™‚

      1. You’re welcome! I’ve tracked it down for you – it was on Wikipedia. Quoting: “The animated television series The Simpsons made allusion to Sendak’s book in the season 17 episode “The Girl Who Slept Too Little”. In the episode, the take on the book was titled The Land of Wild Beasts.”


  58. thanks so much for the thoughtful essay on Sendak – I forwarded it on facebook as he had many fans among my friends – a warm, insightful man we will all miss.

    1. Wow! Thanks! I love hearing that people are sharing this on Facebook. Any sentiments memorializing the man and his work are worth sharing on Facebook — I’m humbled that I get to be a part of that. πŸ™‚

  59. Normally I do not read post on blogs, however I wish to say that this
    write-up very pressured me to try and do it! Your writing taste has been amazed me.
    Thanks, quite nice post.

  60. Beautifully written and insightful – thanks! I had a number of ‘tingly’ moments reading this… I haven’t read the book for years, but now I shall have to search it out and savour it.

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