Written in 1963, Where the Wild Things Are remains a family favorite classic children’s book to this day. The book has sold over 19 million copies worldwide, and even received the prestigious Caldecott medal. Former President Barack Obama even chose it as his read-aloud choice for multiple years of the White House Easter Egg roll. The story has inspired an opera adaptation, several short films, and a feature film directed by Spike Jonze in 2009.
Here are two storytelling lessons from this classic story:
Where the Wild Things Are is a children’s story, and because of this it may be easy to assume that it’s audience is incapable of the whole truth. However, author Maurice Sendak was known for a writing style that exposed children to difficult subjects. Sendak was quoted saying, “I find children on the whole more direct and honest, but being a child doesn’t automatically make you superior. Although usually it does.”
In The Art of Maurice Sendak, Selma G. Lane discusses how Where the Wild Things Are tackled difficult subjects such as anger, growth, and change. The lesson here is to never talk down to your audience. All people, even the young ones, are capable of hearing difficult stories and often use them as an opportunity to process the challenges within their own lives.
As everyone can relate to them, personal struggles are often what make the best stories. Maurice Sendak was able to be so upfront in his writing because he lived a difficult childhood himself. Growing up in deep poverty, he was surrounded by a large immigrant family who he felt isolated from. Sendak used his personal childhood challenges as inspiration when telling the story of troublemaker Max, and by doing so, touched something inside all of us.
This incredible children’s book has so much to teach children and adults alike. It is easy to see the importance of honesty and personal struggle when telling a story. As Max would say, “Let the wild rumpus start!”