Recently I learnt that Maurice Sendak had died at the age of 83. The news led me straight to the mantelpiece in my sitting room. Many picture books have a special place in my home, but the only ones that sit in this particular place of honour are all by Sendak. I scooped up the books and carried them upstairs to bed, and spent a nostalgic half hour journeying through the night kitchen, travelling through the months of the year with Chicken Soup with Rice and, of course, pulling on my imaginary wolf suit and sailing away with mischievous Max to where the wild things are.

It seems almost unbelievable, fifty years on, that Where the Wild Things Are attracted a barrage of negative criticism when it first made its appearance in 1963. Very unusually for a picture book, it was children rather than parents whose response gradually led librarians to realise that this book was possessed of a kind of magic. Of course it was! Where the Wild  Things Are validates a feeling that many of us try to hide as we grow older –  it validates anger. Not only that, it shows how anger can be transformed. Wonderful!  And for me as a parent, Maurice Sendak adds an utterly satisfying and inspired close when he introduces the sense of smell in the final pages, for you will remember that it is the fragrance of supper cooking that lures Max back to the land of here and now, and helps him to realise that his Mum still loves him. Pure genius.

Our family copy of Where the Wild Things Are has been read more times than I care to remember. It is my oldest son’s favourite picture book and it is certainly in my top three. I was interested to read that Sendak initially intended the imaginary island to be inhabited by wild horses. However, he soon realised that horses were quite tricky to paint (they are; we have terrible difficulty at Barefoot Books finding artists who can do this). Sendak’s editor suggested that he change the horses into ‘things’, which was another stroke of genius.

And in case you haven’t guessed: the answer to the question which opened this post is that Mozart and Mickey Mouse between them were Sendak’s greatest influences. Now then, which of those wild monsters has a mouse-like look about it…?

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