Ask people to name their favorite picture books, and, invariably, Where the Wild Things Are tops the list. As recently as a 2012 reader survey, it was voted the number one picture book by SLJ. And in case you didn’t know, I’m a pretty big fan (cough, profile picture, cough).
In honor of one of my great inspirations, here is a list of lesser known facts about the picture book we all know so well.
- Published in 1963, author and illustrator Maurice Sendak started working on the book years earlier in 1955.
- Originally titled Wild Horses, Sendak came up with the idea to change the title to Wild Things following dissatisfaction with his early horse sketches.
- The term is said to have been inspired by the Yiddish expression “vilde chaya,” meaning “wild animals,” in reference to rambunctious children.
- In developing the look for the creatures that populate the land of the Wild Things, Sendak referred to caricatures he had drawn in his youth of visiting relatives.
- These relatives, who young Sendak considered repugnant for their cheek-pinching, bloodshot eyes, and yellow teeth, were poor Jewish immigrants from Poland. Relatives who stayed in Europe were killed in the Holocaust.
- The book met with a harsh reception upon publication. It was panned by early critics for its “scary” and “subversive” subject matter, and it was banned from many libraries. It was also deemed controversial for its “supernatural elements.”
- But its undeniable popularity among children, who clamored for it in libraries it hadn’t been censored, helped convince critics to reconsider their positions.
- One earlier review in a Cleveland newspaper noted, “Boys and girls may have to shield their parents from this book. Parents are very easily scared.”
- By 1964, the book had won the Caldecott Medal as the previous year’s most distinguished American picture book for children.
- One reason often cited for the book’s enduring popularity is its examination of a child’s confrontation with anger. Sendak noted, “From their earliest years, children live on familiar terms with disrupting emotions…They continually cope with frustration as best they can. And it is through fantasy that children achieve catharsis. It is the best means they have for taming Wild Things.”
- Here’s an excerpt from an interview with Stephen Colbert in 2012 (4 months before Sendak’s death).
Colbert: You’ve expressed frustration in the media…that all they ever want to talk about is Where the Wild Things Are.
Colbert: Let’s talk about Where the Wild Things Are.
Sorry, Mr. Sendak. We just can’t get enough.