#1: Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (1963)
505 points (63 votes, #6, #3, #1, #1, #6, #2, #1, #1, #5, #1, #1, #1, #2, #1, #1, #9, #6, #3, #3, #6, #2, #1, #4, #1, #1, #1, #4, #1, #7, #1, #1, #3, #2, #2, #1, #1, #3, #10, #2, #6, #1, #4, #3, #4, #1, #2, #1, #5, #1, #1, #4, #1, #3, #5, #4, #10, #4, #4, #1, #4, #5, #1, #5)
My guess is # 1 will be Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are – the Gioconda of American PBs. – Claudia Rueda
The evolution of picture books can be broken down into two time periods: Pre-Wild Things and Post-Wild Things. Sendak’s 1963 book was that instrumental in ushering in the modern age of picture books. While tackling themes of anger and loneliness, Sendak created one of the few picture books that still seems fresh after decades in print. – Travis Jonker
This is like putting Citizen Kane on your list of top ten films. Clichéd, maybe, but it’s Just That Good. My imagination leaves much to be desired, so I always valued Max’s. He’s also role model for rebels. He doesn’t just sit and rot in his jail cell. He breaks out and has a wild rumpus. I love how it reveals “I’ll eat you up” as a positive statement. Plus there’s something majestic about ending with an unillustrated “And it was still hot.” – Amy Graves
The existence of this book renders two whole genres (the Guess How Much I Love You genre and the When Sophie Gets Angry genre) redundant. Max tames the wild things, and when he returns his dinner is still hot – what more do you need? Psychological profundity in the guise of elegant simplicity. – Rachel Vilmar
Two things: my Children’s Literature professor in library school used this title as an example of the uber-picture book, showing how the illustrations take over more and more of the page as the Wild Things take over. And back when I taught at an infant/toddler childcare, there was this very angry 2-year-old used to gleefully slap the page and cry “No!” along with Max,–you could see the tension flow out of him at finding a book that recognized how powerful feelings can be. Any book that resonates like that with toddlers and PhDs alike, over the generations, has got to be my pick for #1. – Els Kushner
Rebellion, imagination, wildness–and when Max, returned home, his supper was still hot. Imperishable. – Laura Amy Schlitz
This book made darkness palatable. – Laurel Snyder
The devil on my right shoulder tempted me to switch this book out for Rainbow Fish or something, just to see what would happen. I flicked it off my shoulder and stuffed it down a laundry shute instead.
Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t know how to tell you this but we appear to have reached the end of our Top 100 Picture Books Poll list. And was there really, really any doubt in your mind about #1? After all, I can say nothing about it that my clever readers haven’t said better.
Is this really the end of the poll? Almost. Over the next few days I’ll be telling you who the REAL #60 is (you’ll never guess), I’ll reveal the results of the Predict the Top Ten contest I ran, and finally I’ll post a listing of all 100 books for public digestation. Then I’ll consider doing another poll at some point in the future (poetry? middle grade fiction? non-fiction?). Right around the time I find a way to split myself into two people.
The B&N plot synopsis of the book reads: "Max is being so terrible that his mother sends him to his room without supper. But Max doesn’t care — he sails off to the land of the Wild Things, and they make him his king. There, Max can be as terrible as he pleases, and the Wild Things join in the rumpus. Finally, Max is tired of being wild, and yearns to go home. Marvelous pictures and the superb story combine to make this a quintessential picture book. In it, readers will recognize their own wild side."
100 Best Books for Children tells us that Sendak had illustrated some fifty+ books for other authors before he started thinking about making one of his own. Though it was eventually published in 1963, this book was originally begun in November 1955 under the working title "Where the Wild Horses Are". The trouble? Sendak didn’t like his own horses. I find this strange since just the other day I handed a girl looking for horses the lovely little book Charlotte and the White Horse, by Ruth Krauss, illustrated by the Sendak man. In any case horses were eventually substituted for "things". King Kong proved an inspiration for the book, as did cheek-pinching relatives. Said Sendak of his own story "From their earliest years, children live on familiar terms with disrupting emotions . . . They continually cope with frustration as best they can. And it is through fantasy that children achieve catharsis. It is the best means they have for taming Wild Things."
In spite of some mild controversy, the book won a Caldecott Medal, thereby proving that librarians have superior taste when it comes to these matters. Not that it was a sure thing. Minders of Make-Believe discusses how Sendak and his editor Ursula Nordstrom "braced themselves for disappointment." Says the book: "As it happened, both inveterate pessimists were to be robbed that year of the chance to grumble and grouse. Sendak’s victory, more than most Caldecott selections, seemed to put into sharp relief the whole of a large and complex body of work. It crystallized his reputation and in one stroke transformed the increasingly self-assured and immensely articulate thirty-five-year-old into a public figure."
In terms of the scary factor (which is to say, whether kids would end up traumatized by the book) Nordstrom has this to say on the subject: "I think this book can frighten only a neurotic child or a neurotic adult." Later in Dear Genius (the collection of her letters) there’s an amusing note from 1974 from Ursula to Sendak where she mentions that Fran Manushkin (who just came out with The Tushy Book this year, FYI) wants to know if Sendak will be changing the last word in the book. Says Nordstrom, "As you know, new plates are being made and before the new edition comes out we wonder if you want to change the last word from ‘hot’ to ‘warm.’ I can’t for the life of me remember the history of all this but I believe we heard from a couple of children (or their rotten parents) that ‘and it was still warm’ would be better than ‘and it was still hot’ because children don’t like hot foot [sic]. Listen, have you ever had such great editorial comment in your life?" For some reason I like this little passage very very much, though "hot" is clearly the superior word.
In 2005 The Jewish Museum here in New York featured an exhibit called Wild Things: The Art of Maurice Sendak. At the time I had only just moved to New York, and so I missed it. Fortunately, there’s a fair amount of text online describing the exhibit. Interesting.
I could probably spend all day recounting the various incarnations of this book over the years. From operas to Metallica songs to a failed 1983 CGI version (yes, you read that correctly). So though I am loathe to suggest it, for a pretty marvelous encapsulation of all things wild (and all things thing) why not consider checking out the Wikipedia entry on the subject?
As I was announcing the results of this poll, President Obama read this book at the recent Easter Egg Roll. In case you missed it, here it is:
And no Wild Things post would be complete without a mention of the upcoming film. At this point in time all we can go by is the trailer. We must reserve judgment, though I will admit that the minute it’s available you will see me high-tailing it to the nearest theater.
If you have any questions, any questions at all, about this film then I guarantee that they were probably addressed on this almost ridiculously long interview between Ain’t It Cool News and Spike Jonze.
In terms of the title itself, artist Ward Jenkins has produced an amazing blog post on Sendak’s use of white space. Consider this necessary reading if you’re a fan.
Finally, read the book here for fun.
School Library Journal said of it, "Each word has been carefully chosen and the simplicity of the language is quite deceptive."
Previous Top 100 Picture Book Posts include: