Where the Wild Things Are: The Greatest Children’s Book Ever

The book also held up because while the details are delightfully specific – the look of the strange monsters, the white wolf suit, the fact that Max chases the dog with a fork, and his cry of “I’ll eat you!” in response to being called a “wild thing”! – is also completely relatable and open to interpretation. As a child I was obsessed with Where the Wild Things Are, and carried my dog-eared copy with its 90p price tag through countless house moves into adulthood as a sort of talisman. My parents divorced when I was a baby, and as a very young child, despite the warm welcome, I found it unsettling to leave my mother and my usual home to stay at my father and stepmother’s house. Looking back, I realize that I idolized Max, who could sail off into the night, away from his mother, and face these monsters without fear. I longed to be as brave as him.

Of course, Max didn’t actually sail off into the night. But to my childish self, there was no difference between what was real and what Max imagined in the book. Interviews with Sendak often refer to the “gates” or “secret entrances and exits” between the parallel realms of reality and fantasy, which he intuitively understood and which he could easily slip through, like a child, while creating. In 1970, when Braun visited Sendak at his home on West Ninth Street in Manhattan, the journalist described the passageway to his home studio is “long, narrow, and dimly lit,” the space through which Sendak passed each day to “restore the world of his childhood.” Perhaps this is what Sendak offers his readers: Wild Things is not just a book, but a portal to the feelings and desires of our own infancy. In fact, he leads us through one of Sendak’s mysterious corridors, allowing us to not only hear, but re-experience the realm of childhood.

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Above all, in an age of iPhones, computer games, and artificial intelligence, where we’re oversaturated with 24-hour TV and an endless stream of social media, Wild Things is a much-needed reminder of what really makes kids — and people in general — tick: freedom. self-expression, play, connection with nature, family and, of course, love. His masterpiece may only be a few hundred words long, but it captures the essence of the human condition: that when all is said and done, when we need to rest from our adventures, we all long to go home to where someone loves us most.

Imogen Carter is picture book critic for The Observer.

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