Where the Wild Things are – and aren’t.

There is was an interesting Maurice Sendak interview in The Gaurdian paper yesterday. We all know Sendak as the author & illustration of Where The Wild Things Are. Although Moira, if she knew who he was, would know him as the illustrator of the Little Bear stories because she finds Where The Wild Things Are too scary.

“I refuse to lie to children,” says Sendak. “I refuse to cater to the bullshit of innocence.”

An interesting sentiment coming from a children’s book author although he has something to say about that too:

The term “children’s illustrator” annoys him, since it seems to belittle his talent. “I have to accept my role. I will never kill myself like Vincent Van Gogh. Nor will I paint beautiful water lilies like Monet. I can’t do that. I’m in the idiot role of being a kiddie book person.”

Of course this brings to mind a lot of the crap books I find at the library that are just a little too sicky-sweet for my tastes. On the other side of that coin are books that are now full of jokes for parents to enjoy and in doing so sacrifice a story-line that children can really get behind because they are too hip to ‘just’ cater to children. Pixar and Disney movies are guilty of that too. I’m constantly trying to find the balance between books that have a decent message, aren’t going to scare the sleep out of my child, and still be interesting enough for the both of us to want to read again and again. Still, I think there is nothing wrong with preserving a certain amount of innocence in childhood – especially since the onslaught of marketing to children seems to be taking it away and making our children more adult-issue aware at an earlier and earlier age.

If you read the Sendak interview you can see that the issues that coloured his world were a lot heavier than what is touching our children these days and that is reflected in his work which I think makes him a good “kiddie book person.”

It’s the Waldorf philosophy that you read your children fairytales because everything they need to know is in a fairytale. Even Einstein agreed:

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

Albert Einstein

Fairytales – if they haven’t been altered like this gawd-awful Golden Book version of Red Riding Hood we have – can be scary. But so is the world and while I don’t want make my children afraid of the world I do want to prepare them for it. I remember my sister having a beautifully illustrated copy of The Little Mermaid when I was little and yes, the mermaid died at the end and while I remember thinking about her dying a lot it was more the decisions she made that fascinated me. In my sister’s version the little mermaid turned to sea foam and as I child I always thought that seaweed was the spirit of mermaids washed up on the shore. I think the child’s brain will often take information and process in a way that makes it acceptable and understandable – you just have to be careful what kind of information you are giving them.

13 Responses to Where the Wild Things are – and aren’t.

  1. I think classical fables, myths, and fairy tales are great for kids — not only are they entertaining but they also serve as a good foundation to Western literature/media. I remember reading (and/or being read) Aesop’s Fables, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and lots of Greek/Roman mythology. But you’re right that they can be intense/scary. But it’s weird what can scare or not scare a kid. I don’t remember being scared by fairy tales, but I do remember being scared by an episode of Little House on the Prairie. Go figure.

    • I agree that TV can be way scarier for children – and there are so many reasons for that which have nothing to do with the content but that is another blog post for another day.

      My Mum read lots of Greek/Roman mythology when she was a kid too and I think I need to introduce the girls to that when they are older – such a good literary base.

  2. Perhaps M and H will have to discuss Little Bear in their next letter exchange– Harriet loves him. And I love this post, your ideas about fairy tales. They’ve been on my mind a lot since reading Cinderella Ate My Daughter in particular. This is helpful.

    • I’m eagerly waiting Cinderlla Ate My Daughter from the library. M’s letter is currently in the mail so it’s up to H to bring up books in the next one. : )

  3. I don’t remember being read to as a kid, I started reading at 5 and never looked back. I do remember my grandmother telling me stories that she would make up. She was a wonderful story teller and most times the stories were fantastic recounts of her carefree youth swinging on grapevines and running through the woods with her dog. Sometimes they were scary, realistic but scary. I’m not talking fire-breathing dragon scary, I’m talking bad men kidnap little girls scary! For years I had nightmares that I really think is due to these stories so I am very mindful about books that I read to Max. I think the reality of death is a necessary fear that kids need to process and I even think at some point the reality of evil has to be dealt with but not at the expense of our children’s peace of mind. Their youth is precious and while we don’t want them to be oblivious to reality, one of our jobs is to help them retain their innocent wonder as they discover the world around them!

    • I don’t remember being read to as a kid either. And I agree with everything you said – I think retaining their wonder is a BIG part of our job in raising children.

  4. What I also think is interesting about “Waldorf” reading suggestions is that you don’t emphasize scary or sad parts tonally. You don’t gasp or get wide eyed when an owl is afraid etc. It is just a part of life. I have found this a cool test for myself. Especially when reading Dennis Lee poems to Narina. I used to absolutely love the Alligator Pie and Garbage Delight books of poems. Reading them as adults it seems like half the book is about parents being stolen by monsters or someone eating someone else. I used to giggle with delight at these poems, like my daughter does now. When I read them I just go with the flow of the poem. Its singsong story is enough to entertain my daughter but every now and then she picks up on something and things it is very very funny.

    This one was my fav:

    In Kamloops
    I’ll eat your boots.

    In the Gatineaus
    I’ll eat your toes.

    In Napanee
    I’ll eat your knee.

    In Winnipeg
    I’ll eat your leg.

    In Charlottetown
    I’ll eat your gown.

    In Crysler’s Farm
    I’ll eat your arm.

    In Aklavik
    I’ll eat your neck.

    In Red Deer
    I’ll eat your ear.

    In Trois Rivieres
    I’ll eat your hair.

    In Kitimat
    I’ll eat your hat.

    And I’ll eat your nose
    And I’ll eat your toes
    In Medicine Hat and Moose Jaw.

    • My favourite was Oilcan Harry from Nicolas Knock & Other People. It was about a boy who basically kills his family and then blows himself up. I had it memorized at one point and I still have the book so maybe later (not today) I can type it out and share it with you.

  5. ah yes, little mermaid, I remember the story and then seeing the movie. Not the disney movie, there was a TV special movie when I was a child and it had the little mermaid dying at the end. I’ll be honest, I was gutted. Ask Mum. I always ask at the end of such of moive, “so what happens next?”, Mum always said, “nothing Amanda, that’s the end.” Which was honest, but showed a lack of imagination in the mind of a 6,7,8,25,40 year old, as it wasn’t the end for me.
    I don’t do well with movies or books that don’t have a happy ending. Which is why to this day I read books starting with the end first (its a personal preference) and my husband tries to screen movies before I see them…he also knows the questions that will begin shortly after an unsatisfactory ending ;)
    Moira, ahem, may get her dislike of unhappy endings and bad protagonists honestly.

    • Yes well, you are just weird. I can’t imagine reading the ending of a book before reading the actual book – I wouldn’t be able to read the book anymore.

      Although I have to say, I have re-read books only to be shocked at the ending because my mind filled in whole scenes after the actual book ended.

  6. I completely agree! Disney shouldn’t have been allowed to call their movie ‘The Little Mermaid’ since it is so far bastardized from Andersen’s original fairytale. My boys love the stories in Andrew Lang’s ‘The Blue Fairy Book’. We follow much of Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy, which includes avoiding books that are dumbed down, so to speak, for children. You can find many CM booklists online, Ambleside Online is just one of many you can look to for inspiration. :)

  7. I guess she’s still too young to have the Laura Ingalls Wilder books read to her, but a part of me thrills that you could soon be reading her Little House in the Big Woods.

  8. I love this post! I really do. :)
    Which Waldorf songbook did you buy? I’m trying to plunk them out on a recorder. :)
    xoxo

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