“Where the Wild Things Are” has always been a classic children’s story, well before it hit the big screens in 2009. I think Maurice Sendak is something of the Faulkner of children’s literature; I mean, the book is basically one long sentence. But even if I didn’t think this about Sendak, “Where the Wild Things Are” would still be one of my all-time favorites.
Sendak tells a tale about a boy named Max, who runs around his house in his monster costume and causes a bit of trouble here and there. Then his mother sends him to bed without supper, and instead of just being glum in his bedroom, Max imagines that the room has transformed into a beautiful forest near an ocean. So Max sails off on that ocean through time and to another land where all the inhabitants are big monsters like him (but bigger and more monster-y).
Suddenly Max realizes that these monsters listen to what he says, so he starts to command them to do things like “be still” and “let the wild rumpus start.” He becomes the king of the wild things (of course, because that’s how the progression of power works), but he is not satisfied by that (because being king is never as awesome as everyone says it will be). Even though the monsters love him, they don’t love him most of all, so he decides to leave them and return to his bedroom in his own home.
Max realizes that his family (his mother, more specifically) loves him most of all, which is already a phenomenal lesson. But I am going to suggest that this book says a little more about parenting than just that.
Some will say that the premise of the book (a boy being punished by his mother for causing all kinds of trouble) doesn’t shed the best light on the role of parenting. But, I think the progression of the story actually does something quite different.
See, the book opens with Max playing around in the real world, wearing a silly costume and running around the house. His mother calls him “wild thing,” which appears to put him in the position of being sent to bed without dinner, but also sort of challenges his playtime entirely.
Suddenly, when Max is told that he is a wild thing, he transforms from just a boy in a costume to a member of a whole crew of monsters having exciting adventures. Furthermore, while he was just running around actual rooms in a house before, he is now able to see a huge world of possibilities before him. He looks at his very bland bedroom and is now able to imagine trees and vines growing everywhere and the room becoming an entrance into a new world. And all of this is thanks to a mom who prompted him to expand his imagination beyond what was right there in front of him.
And some will say, “but wait, she was starving him, wasn’t she?” But trust me, that’s not the point of the book at all, and no one is encouraging anyone to withhold food from their kids. The spoiler alert (if you haven’t read it or are just a little foggy on the details) is that she doesn’t actually keep dinner from him (while I know the threat of doing seems a little unnecessary).
In fact, after encouraging him to use his imagination in a more exploratory way (and as a perk to her, without destroying stuff all over the house), she brings dinner right to him.
Now that’s some good service and some good parenting.