Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

‘Where the Wild Things are’ has become something of a classic book for young readers (although it holds appeal beyond its intended audience), with Maurice Sendak’s evocative and innovative combination of cross-hatched illustrations and bold text, drawing the reader immediately into Max’s world; a world we’re all familiar with, in which order and social norms must be observed.
Max is an instantly likeable character; made so through his familiarity to the reader; we all know what it’s like to be stifled by authority, to dream of breaking free, and to find that things don’t work out the way we expected. Equally, the Wild Things are simultaneously endearing and exciting; just the sort of creatures you might like to hang out with for an afternoon.
Sendak writes with a certain lyricism, employing tactile phrases, repetition and alliteration to embed his story firmly in the reader’s psyche.
What you don’t notice at first, is how clever this book actually is, beyond being a well-crafted, catchy story. From the off, the illustrated panels begin to expand, as Max’s imagination flourishes. Hints of the Wild Things and their island environment seep into the panels, moving away from ordered, literacy-reliant storytelling to the ‘base’ method of using pictures, until, as we reach the centre of the book, this dominates completely. And as Max begins to miss the comforts of home and makes his journey back to reality, the layout reverses, returning everything to its original state.

All in all, a warm, intelligent book. If you have not yet encountered it, I urge you to seek out a copy; you are missing out.

(Sarah Benwell & Rich Oxenham)

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