Banned Book Club: Where the Wild Things Are

Title: Where the Wild Things Are

Published: 1963

Author: Maurice Sendak

Challenge status: The Caldecott Medal winning (1964) children’s book was Included on a recent article about classic children’s books that have been banned in America. Book #32 on Summer of Banned Books ’13.

Why:  The book was (un)shelved for being frightening or “too dark” for young children, challenges also suggested that the book had supernatural themes. *Where* the book has been challenged recently is a bit vague, around date of publication “in the South” is as much as I can find right now. I would label this challenge as suspect except for the facts that as recently as 2004 Sendak made the ALA’s list of most frequently challenged authors and his book “In the Night Kitchen” was #24 on the Top 100 most frequently banned/challenged books of 2000-2009 and #21 for 1990-1999.

First line: “The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind and another…”


Max has a temper tantrum and is sent to his room to go to bed, with no supper. In his imagination, he is wild, terrible, sets sail on his bed for an island where he is welcomed as the king of beasts, and they dance wild and terrible dances, and have monstrous fun. But then he opts to sail back home and awakens to dinner, and understanding that he’s been loved all along.

And Max the king of all the wild things was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all. – Maurice Sendak, “Where the Wild Things Are”

If you look at the comments on Amazon (I know, never read the comments) you will see a few who can’t stand Max, because he seems to be just a rotten misbehaving kid, and hate the book, because it seems to be sentimental and soft on misbehavior. On the other hand, check this out: “In a March, 1969 column for Ladies’ Home Journal, child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim called the book psychologically damaging for 3- and 4-year-olds. He thought the idea that a mother would deprive a child of food was an inappropriate form of punishment, and that it would traumatize young readers“.

I wonder, a bit, about what it must like to be a kid today. Imaginative flights of fancy aren’t always creative, sometimes they are destructive. And how is imagination perceived today, by teachers and parents and fellow kids? I’m not sure if Max in real life would be seen as so cute.

Anyway, as I reread this book (the last of the controversial kid’s books that I’m reading for this project), I got a little sad. Sad that such a pretty and sweet comment on dream worlds and childhood would be so threatening that people would want to hide it away.

What do you think?

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