My son was only two when I first read him a library copy of Where the Wild Things Are. To say that he didn’t like it would be an understatement: he absolutely hated it and refused to sit through it again. Not surprisingly, given that we didn’t have the best experience with this book, I haven’t had reason to properly review it.
Well, at least that was before I serendipitously found a used copy recently, re-read it for the first time in three years, and finally saw it for the inspired and inspirational work of genius that it is. And the funny thing is, I wasn’t the only one whose opinion of it had evolved: just the other day, I caught my almost-five-year-old reading it quietly on his own accord, completely immersed in Sendak’s sublime illustrations. I suppose both he and I had to grow up (him, literally; me, as a parent) a little before we could empathise with Max, the angsty young protagonist who, instead of resigning himself to his punishment for being rowdy (he was sent to bed without supper), escapes into his imagination. Deep down, of course, Max is just a lonely boy who wants to be loved — and, really, who doesn’t?
Maurice Sendak really understood children, in particular their ability and need to flit seamlessly between the real and the imaginary — not just during play, but also as a means to deal with their emotions and make sense of their world. It’s no surprise, then, that the beautifully lush and limitedless world painted both pictorially and textually by Sendak in this book, is one that kids all over the world have long recognised and embraced as their own. This is a definitive children’s classic that everyone should read at least once in their lives — if for no other reason than to understand and remember what it’s like to be a little wild, a little child.