Sendak’s self-styled trilogy about children confronting and mastering fear has inspired much debate and more than a few dissertations, but generations of children have managed all on their own to “only connect” with these three masterpieces.
Where the Wild Things Are (1963), Sendak’s best-known work and the 1964 Caldecott Medal Winner, has proved utterly engrossing to children throughout the decades. As well as the pictorial grotesqueries — both deliciously monstrous and humorous — they love the idea of a small boy, punished for his naughty “wildness,” dreaming up hideous wild things, taming them, and then becoming their king, before returning home to find his supper, still hot, waiting for him. This vibrant picture book in understated full color is a sincere, perceptive contribution to literature and bears repeated examination. (3–7 years)
The star of the 1971 Caldecott Honor Book In the Night Kitchen (1970), young Mickey falls “through the dark, out of his clothes . . . into the Night Kitchen.” Mixed into cake batter, he escapes in an airplane of dough and dives into a gigantic milk bottle — then is able to supply the cake bakers with the ingredient they need (milk). Line drawings of juxtaposed geometric forms are washed with subtly darkened tones of delicate color, and the bold whites and yellows add an element of luminosity to the eerie setting, a city transformed by night. (3–7 years)
In the 1982 Caldecott Honor Book Outside Over There (1981), goblins kidnap Ida’s baby sister, leaving a changeling made of ice. In hot pursuit, Ida hears “her Sailor Papa’s song” telling her to “catch those goblins with a tune.” The story is haunting and evocative; the art, with echoes of Sendak’s previous work, mature and masterly. The setting of the book is eighteenth-century pastoral — appropriate for a story that reverberates with overtones of Grimm, Mozart, and German romantic poetry. (3–7 years)
In addition to his authored work, Sendak was a generous picture-book collaborator, nowhere better demonstrated than in the 1963 Caldecott Honor Book Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present (1962), written by Charlotte Zolotow and illustrated by Sendak. The story has the quality of a realistic dream, wandering through scenes that change in tone from bright daylight with accents of cherry red through the blue of a starry moonlit night. The book is drenched in atmosphere, with glowing colors and lively depth in scenes that invite repeated and lingering enjoyment. (3–7 years)