Picturebook Study: The Biggest Sandwich Ever

The Biggest Sandwich Ever Cover

The Biggest Sandwich Ever is a book from 1980. It was my first “Lucky Book Club” purchase, and I loved it. (I don’t agree with my husband either, who says there should also be an “Unlucky Book Club”.)

The Biggest Sandwich Ever is such a simple story and that’s why it works. My own daughter loves it as much as I did.

What makes it great? It’s not especially original, but it does follow a successful formula. Although the plot feels quite Dr Seuss-ish, Rita Golden Gelman didn’t fall into the trap of trying to rhyme like only Theodor Geisel can. Instead, she sticks to simple rhyme. There are no special tricks in the rhyming scheme but it is easy to read aloud.

A descendent of this kind of picture book is the bear series by Jez Alborough, also featuring simple rhyme, playing with scale (a massive teddy bear) and a circular ending.

Why are stories of excess and outsize so memorable? I don’t know, but they are. In fact, people who specialise in training others to have good memories recommend making use of this trick of the brain. We’re more likely to remember to buy lemons at the supermarket if we imagine a massive lemon beforehand, squirting juice painfully into the eye.

STORY STRUCTURE OF THE BIGGEST SANDWICH EVER

SHORTCOMING

Although it’s a rule for main characters to have a psychological and moral shortcoming, the rule doesn’t necessarily apply to stories for children. More specifically, it doesn’t seem to apply to carnivalesque children’s stories.

Instead, the story begins:

We were having

a picnic.

Just Tammy and I.

In other words, these kids were just fine as they were. Like a Cat In The Hat plot template, a character arrives unbidden and the purpose of that character is simply to liven up the day.

The general rules of story are quite different in a carnivalesque tale. This becomes apparent when I take a closer look,

DESIRE

In any carnivalesque story the children crave a fun time.

Ostensibly, however, they don’t seem to want anything at all. Adventure seems to find them.

OPPONENT ALLY

The man with the pot

PLAN FUN

Watching an enormous sandwich being built in the countryside

BIG STRUGGLE

The eating of the sandwich. In a carnivalesque story, instead of a sandwich we have a culmination of fun.

ANAGNORISIS

Self revelation is perhaps replaced by an achievement: the finishing of the sandwich.

NEW SITUATION

This is a circular story. The reader predicts the same story will happen over again, but this time with a pie. In other words, this was a moment of fun, and there will be many more such moments for these children.

OTHER TALES OF ABUNDANCE

Many, if not most, children’s picturebooks include an element of fantastic excess.

Some of those stories are veritable tall tales, in which the excess is so exaggerated that the excess is the story.

Thirty Thousand Watermelons
30,000 Watermelons by Aki Bingo
Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag
Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag
avocado-baby-cover
Avocado Baby by John Burningham
vintage-ladybird-book-the-magic-porridge-pot-well-loved-tales-606d-gloss-hardback-1989-6030-p
The Magic Porridge Pot — a classic fairytale
enormous-turnip-scene_1000x747
The Enormous Turnip from a Ladybird edition

FURTHER READING

The inverse of a tale of excess is the miniature — memorable, again, for its playing with scale.

Thumbelina, Tom Thumb and Other Miniature Tales

Which Witch’s Wand Works by Poly Bernatene

Which Witch’s Wand Works? is a 2004 carnivalesque picture book in which two sister witches are the stand-ins for children.

Which Witch's Wand Works cover

Alliteration features strongly in this story — not only do we have the title of the book (and of the fictional TV show they argue over), but also the names of the main characters, Rattle, Ricket and Rum. The original characters are named ‘Paca’, ‘Poca’ and ‘Espantoso’, which means ‘Dreadful’. So I feel something has been lost in the translation from Spanish to English. The cat’s name in Spanish is obviously ironic, as the cat is harmless. I wonder at the translator’s decision to name him ‘Rum’?

In these two sisters you have the tall skinny one and the short, fat one. This same duo can be seen in Kate DiCamillo’s Mercy pig series, in which the short fat one seems like she has a developmental disability while the taller skinny one acts as ‘Mother’, and is no fun at all. We don’t have that dynamic going on here, though; both of the sisters are equally childlike.

STORY STRUCTURE OF WHICH WITCH’S WAND WORKS?

WEAKNESS

Rattle ‘has trouble flying in very strong winds’.

Ricket ‘has trouble flying at all’.

Rum ‘would rather walk’.

In this way, we are told directly what is wrong with each of the main characters as we are introduced on the first page. These witch characters are looking out of the page at us as if they’ve been caught ‘in the act’. One is stuck up a tree; another is on the floor of the living room and the cat laughs.

These shortcomings are specific incidents; overall, we see that although they are witches, they are not good at their jobs.

DESIRE

On page two we learn that each sister would like to prove herself superior to the other.

OPPONENT

The other sister.

PLAN

They start a contest to see who can do better magic with her wand.

BIG STRUGGLE

The spells they cast on each other get them into silly positions. Eventually one of them inadvertently disappears down the road in the back of a dustcart. ‘Rattle jumped on her broomstick and flew out the window in hot pursuit’. She unglamorously lands on the windscreen of the dustcart and rescues the cat.

The big struggle sequence in a picturebook often occupies a large portion of the book and is often paced just as this one is:

  1. First incident (witch turns into ‘frog’ – actually a green witch)
  2. Second witch is supposed to shrink (but actually blows up into a balloon and flies around)
  3. First witch makes her sister disappear (but actually she’s outside clinging to a flagpole)
  4. And after those three incidents (note the rule of threes), we have a double spread of multiple incidents, speeding up the pace. ‘The witches carried on and the spells flew back and forth.’ This speeds up the pace and we understand this big struggle went on for a while.
  5. The worst thing happens overleaf. Because we’ve just had an entire sequence of mayhem depicted on the same double spread, this single event occupying a single double spread is emphasised.

ANAGNORISIS

There is no self revelation, but they are overjoyed to get their cat back, and decide to have a party.

NEW SITUATION

The book conspicuously ends ‘back where we started’, in their carnivalesque house, where no one has any more self knowledge, leaving plenty of room for this pair of hopeless witches to get into further trouble later.

When Witches' Wands Won't Work

NOTES ON THE ILLUSTRATION

Witches are characters from medieval times, so a story starring witches lends itself well to some illustrative techniques of yore. In this book we have a very modern style — full colour, opacity variations, blurred silhouettes which mimic the effect of a modern SLR camera, texture overlays, expressive caricature, and many different ‘camera angles’ — but we also have these full colour illustrations contrasted against black and white line drawings. Before the modern printing era, this was often done in books to reduce printing costs, but these days it has a different function. There’s the effect of making the book seem older, but I don’t think it’s just that. The black and white illustrations convey information, but they are not designed for the eye to linger upon.

For instance, in the double spread where we see the cat crying out from the back of the dust truck, the black and white witch looks on in horror. We are not meant to focus on the witch; we are meant to follow her gaze. The cat, of course, is in full colour. We are to focus on the cat and the misery of being taken away from home to goodness knows where.

 

NOTES ON THE NARRATION

This picturebook makes use of an interesting technique: regular parenthesis. It’s a form of authorial ‘intrusion’, of course, but this is the unseen narrator guiding the young reader through the story with a wink wink, nudge nudge.

 

Bertie’s Escapade by Kenneth Grahame (1949)

Bertie’s Escapade is a carnivalesque, adorable book which would be a great pre-reader if you’re wondering whether your child is ready for a Wind In The Willows read aloud. You’ll recognise the illustrator as the very same who depicted Winnie-the-Pooh.

That said, I can’t resist digging a little deeper into this story, because there is a character named Mr Grahame in here, and chances are that this refers to the author himself. The book was published posthumously, and I get the feeling it was a light story written for a couple of children in particular. My theory is bolstered by the fact that the children are referred to only by initials: Miss S and A.G.

It seems likely that A.G. refers to Grahame’s only son Alistair Grahame.

This light-hearted story becomes even more sobering once you learn that Alistair was found dead on some train tracks at the age of 20 in May of 1920, probably an act of suicide. In other words, this book was published not only after the author’s death, but also several decades after a real life human character had died.

Bertie's Escapade cover

The story becomes more disturbing when I realise Kenneth Grahame probably would have suffered from what we now call PTSD, due to a very strange incident in which he was held up at gunpoint in a bank robbery:

At around 11 o’clock on the morning of 24 November, 1903, a man called George Robinson, who in newspaper accounts of what followed would be referred to simply as ‘a Socialist Lunatic’, arrived at the Bank of England. There, Robinson asked to speak to the governor, Sir Augustus Prevost. Since Prevost had retired several years earlier, he was asked if he would like to see the bank secretary, Kenneth Grahame, instead.

When Grahame appeared, Robinson walked towards him, holding out a rolled up manuscript. It was tied at one end with a white ribbon and at the other, with a black one. He asked Grahame to choose which end to take. After some understandable hesitation, Grahame chose the end with the black ribbon, whereupon Robinson pulled out a gun and shot at him. He fired three shots; all of them missed.

Several bank employees managed to wrestle Robinson to the ground, aided by the Fire Brigade who turned a hose on him. Strapped into a straitjacket, he was bundled away and subsequently committed to Broadmoor.

The Telegraph

This affects my reading of the dream sequence, in which Mr Grahame (of the story) wakes up after a bad dream in which he is asked to speak in front of a large crowd but can’t think of a single thing to say. While these kinds of dreams are familiar to almost everybody, only the sufferer of PTSD knows the true magnitude of terror that can come of dream sequences.

Bertie's Escapade bad dream

 

Bertie's Escapade dream02_700x449

STORY WORLD

Bertie's Escapade opening

In old-style stories the setting is set up before we know much about the main character. This is a northern hemisphere Christmas story. The snowy landscape is a comforting blanket and Bertie is inexplicably drawn to it.

STORY STRUCTURE OF BERTIE’S ESCAPADE

SHORTCOMING

Bertie needs adventure.

The whole house was sunk in slumber. “This is very slow,” yawned Bertie. “Why shouldn’t I do something?”

Bertie was a pig of action. “Deeds, not grunts,” was his motto.

DESIRE

We soon find out that Bertie wants to have the trappings of luxury, just like a human.

OPPONENT

The humans, who don’t want the farm animals to eat all their food. After all, the farm animals are the food. (This inconvenient fact is skipped over.)

PLAN

Bertie collects two friends (threatening to bite one of them who has no intention of ‘fagging up a hill’). If you’re anything like me, you’ll be a little perplexed at this use of ‘fag’:

fag definition

Bertie takes them to Spring Lane via a magical underground elevator where they find themselves standing outside Mr Stone’s house. Bertie explains his plan to the friends, and to us at the same time:

“Now, we’ll go up to the house, and sing our bewitching carols under the drawing-room windows. And presently Mr Stone will come out, and praise us, and pat our heads, and say we’re dern clever animals, and ask us in. And that will mean supper in the dining-room, and champagne with it, and grand times!”

Obviously this doesn’t work, since the readers know animals can’t hold a tune!

Bertie's Escapade lift singing_700x422

BIG STRUGGLE

The farmer sets the dogs onto them, at the wife’s suggestion.

Notice how the characters run backwards through the book during the big struggle scene. (In English language picture books characters generally move to the right, except when they come up against a hazard or road block… such as dogs.)

Bertie's Escapade dogs_700x440

MODIFIED PLAN

Bernie's Escapade smoking_700x441

If this were of picture book length the story wouldn’t include this next sequence, but a chapter book is a bit more complicated.

The second sequence of the story involves a sit down, a smoke and a change of plans. Now they will go to back to his sty and he will ransack Mr Grahame’s house for the choicest food.

“I know where Mr Grahame keeps his keys — very careless man, Mr Grahame. Put your trust in me, and you shall have cold chicken, tongue, pressed beef, jellies, trifle, and champagne — at least; perhaps more, but that’s the least you’ll have!”

Bertie's Escapade feast_700x450

PSYCHOLOGICAL NEED: Here we learn that Bertie doesn’t want to be shown up in front of his friends. He initially promised a feast and he’ll go to great lengths to pull it off.

ANAGNORISIS

It’s not Bertie who has the revelation. It is Mr Grahame, via the disturbing dream. Bertie is a comical character, and comical characters don’t often have anagnorises.

NEW SITUATION

The lack of anagnorisis is depicted on the final page. He is a ‘pig in muck’.

After this adventure, Bertie is content, we assume, for at least a while. (Until the next adventure.)

Bertie's Escapade last page_700x877

Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

“Where The Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak is the picture book that changed picture books forever.

Maurice Sendak Where The Wild Things Are Book Cover
Maurice Sendak Where The Wild Things Are (actual cover)

Maurice Sendak Where The Wild Things Are (spoof cover from Better Book Titles)
Maurice Sendak Where The Wild Things Are (spoof cover from Better Book Titles)

The picture book began to be understood,  after Maurice Sendak, as something extraordinary – a fusion of images and limited vocabulary which authors such as Julia Donaldson, Lauren Child, Alan and Janet Ahlberg, Emily Gravett and more have turned into a post-modern art form.

Amanda Craig

When I started reading books about picture books the first thing I noticed was how much the books of Maurice Sendak are referenced as primary sources, especially Where The Wild Things Are. Handy hint: If you’re thinking of reading academic literature in a bid to understand children’s books, have the Sendak oeuvre at your side. (Also Rosie’s Walk, the picturebooks of Anthony Browne and Chris van Allsburg.)

SENDAK_1963_Where_the_Wild_Things_Are_copyright_page

I find it ironic that the Book Depository description of Where The Wild Things Are includes the phrase: ‘Supports the Common Core State Standards’. Sendak famously did not write for children, saying, “I write stories, then someone else decides that they are for children.” I wonder what he would have to say about the heavily pedagogical motivations behind adults encouraging children to read his stories.

Sendak readily acknowledged his inspiration for his stories, and this one was apparently inspired by King Kong.

King Kong Original



WHAT HAPPENS IN “WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE”

This story is about a boy named Max who, after dressing in his wolf costume, wreaks such havoc through his household that he is sent to bed without his supper. Max’s bedroom undergoes a mysterious transformation into a jungle environment, and he winds up sailing to an island inhabited by malicious beasts known as the “Wild Things.” After successfully intimidating the creatures, Max is hailed as the king of the Wild Things and enjoys a playful romp with his subjects; however, smelling the food that his mother has delivered for him, he decides to return home. The Wild Things are dismayed.

THE ENDURING APPEAL OF “WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE”

Where The Wild Things Are is an example of a carnivalesque text. This is a form which endures — young and old audiences love to be whisked away on a jaunt of the imagination, back in time for tea, consequence free.

Marjery Hourihan points out other, more irritating, reasons for this book’s enduring appeal in Deconstructing The Hero:

The persistence of this pattern which inscribes the myth of Western patriarchal superiority is apparent when we see that Maurice Sendak’s celebrated children’s picture book, Where The Wild Things Are (1963), tells a story which is in essence exactly the same as the story of Odysseus. A small boy called Max, dressed in his wolf suit, misbehaves and threatens his mother, so he is sent to bed without his supper. Once in his room he embarks on an imaginary journey, through a forest and across an ocean, to the land where the wild things are. Despite their ferocious appearance Max tames them by saying ‘Be still!’ and looking into their eyes without blinking, whereupon they make him their king. He is given a crown and a scepter and they obey him. Max and the wild things indulge in a joyous and anarchic rumpus which stretches across six pages of illustrations, but finally, lonely for love, Max stops the rumpus and departs despite the wild things’ plea: ‘Oh please don’t go — we’ll eat you up — we love you so!’ He sails home, into his own room where he finds that a hot supper is waiting for him.

Like Odysseus and all the other heroes of antiquity, Max is the primary force in his story. His goal, like Odysseus’s, is to regain his kingdom (his position as a loved child with the freedom of his whole home). Like the ancient heroes he shows no fear in the face of the wild things he encounters and he subdues them by the exercise of his own will. Though they linger in the magical wilderness for a time, neither Max nor Odysseus can be persuaded to stay there despite appeals and blandishments; they remain dedicated to their purpose. Each achieves a successful return to home and normality and is rewarded by the love of a faithful kindswoman. They regain their kingdoms.

Where the Wild Things Are is justly admired for its exquisite illustrations, its meanings which readers might make from the text and the pictures are that in his dream Max realizes he has the power to control his ‘wild’ emotions, understands that when he threatened his mother he had not ceased to love her. The wild things’ appeal to Max: ‘Oh please don’t go — we’ll eat you up — we love you so!’ echoes the earlier threat he made to her: ‘I’ll eat you up!’ and shows his awareness that the intensity of his anger was a function of the intensity of his love. The hot supper which his mother has left for him shows that she realizes this too. The possibility of such personal meanings constitutes a potent appeal for child readers. But part of the story’s enormous and enduring popularity is attributable to Max’s role as a hero who undertakes a successful quest and masters the wild things — and from that other, socially significant meanings emerge. Although he is no more than 4 years old, Max has learnt the trick of domination and is clearly a potential member of the patriarchy.

‘WE’LL EAT YOU UP!’ FOOD IN WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE

The conflation between food (especially sweet food) and love is well known. As Rosalind Coward suggests, there is “something about loving [that] reminds us of food, not potatoes or lemons, but mainly sweet things — ripe fruits, cakes and puddings.”[…] Despite cultural taboos against cannibalism adults often play games with children in which we pretend that we are going to eat them. These games typically involve blowing raspberries on the baby’s tummy, kissing, nibbling and sucking on their toes and fingers, growling and playing giants or monsters, as in “the monster’s going to eat you up!”. Adults understand the food rules and the way they can be bent but not broken. But children, unfamiliar with the way metaphors work, must find adults’ behaviour very troubling.

Carolyn Daniel, Voracious Children: Who eats whom in children’s literature

 NOTES ON ILLUSTRATION IN WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE

Maurice Sendak Finds His Style

Illustrators struggle to find their styles; the style of Maurice Sendak’s early books is close to the commonplace conventions of most cartoons, and it seems that Mercer Mayer’s career as a picture-book artist would have been different if Sendak had never invented his Wild Things.  And we do, certainly, tend to admire Sendak more for his original work in Where the Wild Things Are than for his more derivative work in earlier books and more in general than we do the generally derivative work of Mayer.

Perry Nodelman, Words About Pictures

There's An Alligator Under My Bed
You may notice an influence.

Here is the cover of the first book Sendak ever illustrated. As you can see, the style is like many others of around that time:

The Wonderful Farm
published in 1951 when Sendak was 23 years old

Style, to me, is purely a means to an end, and the more styles you have the better […] Each book obviously demands an individual stylistic approach.

Maurice Sendak, The Openhearted Audience

By the time Sendak illustrated Wild Things, his style was distinctively his own. In order to get there, he did a lot of work. By the time he was 34, Sendak had written and illustrated seven books and illustrated 43 others, so his style was either going to develop or stagnate!

Character In Where The Wild Things Are

Sendak was a very influential illustrator, though it’s easy to forget, now, that once every single child depicted in picturebooks was blonde and cherubic. We still haven’t come far enough when it comes to illustrating non-white children, but it was Maurice Sendak who first started drawing pot-bellied, dark-haired, non-pretty looking children. In Outside Over There, the trolls look exactly like human babies, which added to the ‘disturbingness’.

sendak-goblins

Max of Where The Wild Things Are has a human face but the body of an animal (because of his wolf suit). The suit represents the way in which he gives over to his baser, animal instinct to misbehave. He must learn to enjoy being human again.

Color In Where The Wild Things Are

(Note that in order to see the colors properly, it’s necessary to look at the primary text.)

Writes Perry Nodelman in Words About Pictures:

The conventional meanings of colors are of two sorts: those, like the red of a stoplight, that are merely arbitrary and culture-specific and those that relate specific colors to specific emotions…the culture specific codes tend to be more significant in terms of their ability to give weight and meaning to the objects within pictures, but it is the emotional connotations that most influence the mood of picturebooks—the connections between blue and melancholy, yellow and happiness, red and warmth, which appear to derive fairly directly from our basic perceptions of water and sunlight and fire. Since such associations do exist, artists can evoke particular moods by using the appropriate colors—even, sometimes, at the expense of consistency”: Max’s room in Where The Wild Things Are is blue when he is first sent to it, a much more cheerful yellow after his visit to the Wild Things; and his bed changes from moody bluish purple to cheerful pink.

First bedroom scene
First bedroom scene

where-the-wild-things-are-max-bedroom-trees
Second bedroom scene

max bedroom forest
Third bedroom scene

sendak-wild-things-story-end-300x265
Fourth bedroom scene, upon Max’s return

The Bedroom Colors

Other qualities of colors can also convey the emotional content of pictures. Consider the two pictures of Max in his bedroom in Where The Wild Things Are. Not only do the colors of the wall and the bed change, but their doing so changes the effect of the pictures as a whole. In the picture the pink of the bedspread is different from the purple of the bed, and both jar with the greenish yellow carpet; in the other picture everything is suffused with a warming yellow that brings the room together; the bed matches its spread and a bowl on the table. The unified calm of the picture contrasts mightily with the discordancies of the first one. Artists frequently use related colors to imply calm and discordant ones to suggest jarring energy or excitement.

Location of Character on the Page

Max meets the wild things for the first time
Max meets the wild things for the first time

In picture books, artists vary the location of their characters in order to inform us about whether we should be more interested in the action or in a character’s response to it. In Where The Wild Things Are, Max is at the edge of the picture as he sees the Wild Things for the first time, for at this point, what Max sees is what matters. But once we are familiar with the creatures, Max’s own action becomes more significant, and he moves to the center as he joins their wild rumpus.

Nodelman

unsettling page composition
unsettling page composition

A more unusual use of central focus is the picture in Wild Things in which Max makes mischief by building a tent. The tent is on the left of the picture, Max on the right; the center is empty. Max faces out of the picture to the right, and his teddy bear faces out of the picture to the left; the focus is away from the center rather than toward it, and the mood is as unsettling as Max’s tantrum.

Nodelman

Use of Shapes In Where The Wild Things Are

max wild things swing
crescent shaped leaves, crescent shaped teeth, pointy crown

max tent
horns and crown echo shape of the crescent moon

Notice that Max’s wolf suit is the only patch of white, clearness on the entire page. This way, it stands out.

[W]hen the Wild Things make Max king the crescent shape of the moon is echoed by the curved backs and by the crescent shaped horns of the Wild Thing closest to Max. Furthermore, the curves of Max’s crown turn its spikes into more crescents, the position of the first Wild Thing’s legs and arms make them into crescents, many of the leaves of the tree behind Max are crescent-shaped, the ground has suddenly developed a semicircular rise, and the line formed by the tops of the heads of the group of Wild Things on the right forms an arch also. The rhythmic unity of this picture evolkes a much quieter moment than those depicted before and after it, both of which seem to put more emphasis on the points of crescents than on their roundness.

Nodelman

Another thing to note is that the pictures start off postcard size and gradually expand as the book progresses, filling the page as Max’s imagination opens up.

Perspective As Narrative In Where The Wild Things Are

unsettling triangle

Usually, the use of perspective to create focus is…subtle. In Where The Wild Things Are, for instance, Sendak takes advantage of perspective lines to focus our attention on the moon, which gradually develops more weight in the series of pictures in which Max’s bedroom changes into a forest. In the first picture, the moon occupies a point close to the vanishing point, but it is hazy, and the unsettling upside-down triangle made by Max, the door, and the bed focuses our attention on Max and his anger. In the next picture, the moon is more distinct from the background, while the heavily outlined trees make the bed and window stand out less. The original triangle has faded, but no definite focus replaces it, and the picture demands our attention to many of its elements: the more prominent moon, the trees as new and therefore automatically interesting, and still, if only because he is human, Max himself. In the third picture, the bed fades, and the trees lose their harsh outlines; only Max stands out. But the moon, now exactly in front of the vanishing point, demands some attention; furthermore, its whiteness echoes Max’s whiteness, so that a relationship between the two is suggested. The last picture in the sequence makes the relationship clear. Max, his back turned to us, is in shadow, and the moon, at the vanishing point, is the only really bright object left. As the focus of our attention and Max’s, it communicates the key meaning of the picture, the mysterious unreality traditionally associated with moonlight; it creates an atmosphere of freedom from restriction that might imply anarchy, of wonderful but potentially dangerous things about to happen. As a whole, this sequence of pictures shows how subtle changes in focus can make what is basically the same composition express different meanings. The pictures so economically move our attention from Max’s state of mind to the potential excitement of a moon-bathed forest that few words are necessary.

Nodelman

Light Source and Shadow In Where The Wild Things Are

Throughout Wild Things, depictions of the moon attract attention both to themselves and to the objects they cast light upon—usually on Max himself. But surprisingly, the moon is not the only source of light in many of the pictures in which it appears; Sendak invents other invisible light sources to make the objects he wants us to focus on stand out. When Max stands in his bedroom with his back to the moon, his front is lit from the left front; but when he turns his back and focuses his attention—and ours—on the moon, this apparent source of light in the front disappears and Max’s back is shadowed. Something similarly strange happens in Ida’s bedroom in Outside Over There: the light shining through the window causes the table leg to cast a shadow, but as the world outside darkens, the shadow remains. Perhaps […] this is Sendak’s way of telling us that all that happens here is a daydream that occupies only one brief instant.

Nodelman

Movement In Where The Wild Things Are

max dog
notice the drawing which has been done by Max — he has been thinking about these creatures already

Picture books are filled with pictures that show an action just before it reaches its climax. In Where The Wild Things Are, we see Max’s hammer about to hit the nail, Max in midair about to land on the dog, Max’s foot in midair about to stamp the ground. The few pictures showing Max with both feet planted firmly on the ground are the least energetic ones in the book; they either suggest that he is resting or else give him a strong, stable position of authority.

Nodelman

Shading to Convey Energy In Where The Wild Things Are

In Wild Things, Sendak implies various levels of energy by using two different sorts of shading. In the pictures of Max making mischief at the beginning of the book, the shading on the figure of Max is composed of hatching, disconnected lines all in the same direction, but the rest of the picture is shaded with crosshatching, which creates numerous small, enclosed, stable squares. The crosshatching holds the objects down; Max is clearly in motion, while nothing else is. As the forest grows in Max’s room and he calms down, his shading comes to consist of more crosshatching. Later in the book, during the wild rumpus, all the shading but that on Max is crosshatching, and he becomes more filled with crosshatching as the sequence goes on. That helps create a curious dreamlike stasis even in spirt of the exuberant action in these pictures.

Nodelman

For more on the illustration style in this book, see Holly Manns’ slide show.

Later Pictures In A Picturebook Become Context For Earlier Ones

More on the picture of the Wild Thing hanging on the wall at the end of the stairs:

[W]e come to understand the implications of Max’s joyous anarchy in the first pictures of Where The Wild Things Are more completely only when we see the picture that shows him alone in his room; the anarchy is now not merely fun but appears to have significant social implications. Furthermore, it is not until much later in the book that we may recalled the picture “by Max” hanging on the staircase wall in those earlier pictures and come to understand its implications: we learn that Max drew not just a monster but a creature he might visit in his imagination, and we understand how very much the place where the Wild Things are is indeed a product of Max’s imagination. The model airplane hanging over Mickey’s bed in the first pictures of In The Night Kitchen has a similar function. Such examples suggest how very much the later pictures in a book become a context for the earlier ones in re-readings. It is impossible to reread a book as we first experienced it.

Nodelman

STORY SPECS OF WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE

338 words

40pp

According to Sendak, at first Wild Things was banned in libraries and received negative reviews. It took about two years for librarians and teachers to realize that children were flocking to the book, checking it out over and over again, and for critics to relax their opinions.

COMPARE WITH

There is an uncountable number of texts which have been influenced by Wild Things. Also, Wild Things was part of a wider movement, influenced itself by texts which came before.

Harry the Dirty Dog is offered by Stephens as another example of a carnivalesque text in which a child character (in this case a dog) interrogates the established order, then returns home to safety.

Harry-the-dirty-dog-cover

Perry Nodelman compares Max to Peter of Peter Rabbit in his book Words About Pictures. Both Max and Peter have a wild side, and are punished for not behaving like proper humans. Peter Rabbit is, of course, ostensibly an animal, but note that it’s his human coat that gets him into all that bother in the first place.

The Tale Of Peter Rabbit

FURTHER READING ON MAURICE SENDAK

“If there’s anything missing that I’ve observed over the decades it’s that that drive has declined,” said the 83-year-old author… “There’s a certain passivity, a going back to childhood innocence that I never quite believed in. We remembered childhood as a very passionate, upsetting, silly, comic business.”

Children’s books today aren’t wild enough, says Maurice Sendak, The Guardian