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Top 100 Picture Books Poll Results (#1)

#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:



































About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Monica Edinger says:

    Brava! This was a feat of blogging. A feat!

  2. Bookie Woogie Z-Dad says:

    Thanks so much for all the work that went into the poll and the unveiling of results! It’s truly been a blast!

  3. Travis Jonker says:

    A humble suggestion: can we get a handsome, leather bound edition of the Top 100 Picture Books made? Maybe Time-Life could get involved. I’d pay two installments of 9.95 (+ s&h) for that! Seriously though, having this great list collected for offline viewing would be very cool.

  4. Chrisin NY says:

    I was thinking as this list went along how many more books I have to add to my personal library. (This is not one of them and I hoped it would be #1 as the list wound down.)
    Thanks so much for doing this.

  5. Let me add my thanks. This was a thing of grace, beauty, and thrilling anticipation. I’m such a nerd, my eyes teared up when I saw all the votes with all those sentinal #1 that began this post.

  6. Brenda Ferber says:

    Simply fabulous! Thanks Betsy.

  7. Jennifer Schultz says:

    One of the few top 10 guesses I got right! Not a surprise to many, I’m sure. I (selfishly) would love to see more lists. What an undertaking! I loved every word of it. Awesome job.

  8. Kate Coombs says:

    Max is still wearing his wolf suit–and his quintessentially well-deserved crown. All’s right with the world! Thanks for the amazing work you’ve put in on this Top 100 project.

  9. Jules, 7-Imp says:

    Best blog posts EVER. Thank you.

  10. JMyersbook says:

    Loved every single installment! This was a banner achievement. Hooray and thank you!

  11. Amy Kraft says:

    I’m shocked by how many of my top 10 did not make the list of top 100 – it goes to show how many amazing picture books are in the world. Number 1 is indisputable. Thank you for this amazing list!

  12. josephine says:

    It *can’t* be over! Three cheers for Betsy Bird! We should have a parade.

  13. Dan Santat says:

    Yes, indeed! Great blog post! One big surprise out of all this… No “Green Eggs and Ham”? Thanks so much for doing this.

  14. Terry D says:

    This is such a wonderful gift, Betsy. Thanks for all the countless hours and devotion! I’ll second a parade.

  15. Tammi Sauer says:

    You deserve your own wild rumpus after all of this.

    Thanks so much!

  16. Yes, I think you deserve a wild rumpus — and a book deal. Great work, insightful commentary, outstanding research. Brava!

  17. Each night, I was like a child on Christmas Eve waiting to see what present was left in the morning. It wasn’t just the unveiling of the books, it was all the interesting facts, opinions and tidbits that went along with it. Thank you so much for sharing your hard work, knowledge and humor with us. It’s been GREAT!

  18. Jen Robinson says:

    I never had much doubt that this would be the top book, but it’s a relief to be right. This list is an amazing resource, Betsy. I look forward to going back and perusing the full list.

  19. #1 may have been inevitable, but the rest of the list was full of surprises — good and awful. Thank you!
    Post parade, can you get ALA to print up posters of the Top 100 for every library to hang up?

  20. Yesterday, I too was thinking it would be hilarious if you announced #1 as something terrible and decidedly not rumpus-y.

    Thanks for all the work on this; it has been much much fun.

  21. MotherReader says:

    I said it on my blog, and I’ll say it here too: This was an extraordinary undertaking and I am in awe. Awe, I tell you.

  22. David Ziegler says:

    This was fantastic. I’m doing a big Where the Wild Things Are party this summer. Kudos for all the hard work. It’s good to know I wasn’t the only one with disrupted sleep patterns over this list! Can’t wait for the full nomination list, secret #60 and discussions on guesses that didn’t make it. Maybe your wild rumpus should be at BEA! Thanks again!!!

  23. Yes, great work– very impressed with this feat of blogging.

    Very disappointed that Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham didn’t make it in.

  24. Boni Ashburn says:

    Thanks, Betsy!

  25. Genevieve says:

    Best series of kidlit posts EVAH. And it would make a marvelous book. Thank you so much for this, Betsy.

    Seuss lovers, I originally put Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham in my top ten guesses, but when I went back and checked the rules, I realized that the rules explicitly said that easy readers were not included in this picture book poll. So it’s not failure to appreciate Seuss’s gems of books that kept them out! It’s just the definition of picture book being used here.

  26. I’d pay for a color book version as well.

  27. Nathan Hale says:

    I loved this (plus I had $18 riding on Wild Things being #1 cha-ching!) Now bring on the WORST 100 Picture Book countdown!

  28. Holly B says:

    Thank you, Betsy, for your superhuman blogging efforts! I’ve been following the poll results closely and my local library has been kept busy with all the holds I’ve been placing. My two-year-old is now obsessed with “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom!” and loves turning the pages in “The Monster at the End of this Book”.

  29. Let me add my thanks for this AWESOME and challenging task you took on! Let the wild rumpus begin for you! And oooh, top worst picture books might be interesting… I was bummed that the “Where the wild things are” exhibit at San Francisco’s Metreon closed. But I did purchase a keychain in time. And I got the top 4 right, and 7 out of the top 10 ain’t too bad!

  30. Bravo!

  31. Beth Kephart says:

    Exceeding well done. Congratulations.

  32. Wow not surprised by the winner but the margin of victory is astonishing. With a completely dominant performance, Wild Things earned 26 first place votes which means about 1/6th of all voters picked Wild Things as their top choice. Over 40% of voters placed the book in their top 10s. Perhaps even more amazing is Wild Things’ average rank score of 3.0 the highest average rank on the list for any title receiving more than 3 votes. For those interested, the 2nd highest average rank is Owl Moon with a 3.2 and 9 votes. For the next highest in the top ten you have to look at Snowy Day with a rank of 4.0 an entire ranking point away from Wild Thing. In fact only four titles with more than 3 votes had an average rank less than 4.0, Wild Things, Owl Moon, The Little House (3.4) and Blueberries for Sal (3.8). As it has been stated above, the winning title was a forgone conclusion when this poll was announced but who would have thought that it would take the title in such a spectacular fashion?

  33. I just have to add to the many voices saying THANK YOU and WELL DONE!! This poll has been so much fun to follow, and read. It was wonderful to see so many “old friends” on the list and maybe even more wonderful to learn some new titles. (For example, I had never heard of “Lost and Found” but I will check it out at the library today!) Thank you for all your hard work. I agree with the previous poster who said best series of kid lit posts EVAH!!

    P.S. “The Very Peckish Caterpillar.” Love it!!

  34. What a fabulous blog event! I couldn’t wait every morning to see what was coming next! Thank you so much for all of the hard work…especially the information for each book on the list. I learned something new everyday…my number one motto!

  35. Chrisin NY says:

    I also wanted to add kudos for Eric and his statistical analysis. It was much enjoyed.

  36. marjorie says:

    adding to the chorus of huzzahs and thank-yous. (and to eric too — love the number-crunching!) the whole thing has been a joy to read. and now my 4-year-old is now loving Anatole, a book I’d never heard of. (for me, the saddest omission was One Morning in Maine, which i liked more as a kid AND today than either Blueberries for Sal or Make Way for Ducklings.)

  37. Candace Ryan says:

    This countdown has been my favorite wild rumpus these past few weeks. Thanks again, Betsy!

  38. Greatings, Super post, Need to mark it on Digg
    Thank you

  39. Patrick R. says:

    Great countdown, and a terrific #1 post! For those interested, Sendak’s original artwork for this book (and almost 100 others) can be seen at the Rosenbach Museum & Library in Philadelphia ( They’re stunning illustrations, and worth seeing in person. Come and visit us anytime, Elizabeth–and anyone else!

  40. katmcginty says:

    I suspect that no one reads the comments any more, but I wanted to thank you for reminding me of the sheer delight of reading books to one’ children. Mine are 15 and 12 now, so I am completely unfamiliar with most of the books published in the last seven years, but “Goodnight Moon” reminded me of the bedtime routine (“Where’s the mousie? THERE’s the mousie!”) and of a hundred books that I thought I’d forgotten. “Goodnight Gorilla” was my eldest’s other favorite because the armadillo had a stuffed Ernie just like hers…and can I just say, I to this day read (when I come across them) the Rosemary Wells books, the Frances books, and the Henkes collection. Thanks so much!

    (and I always hated “The Giving Tree” because people always made the tree out to be Jesus. Bah!)