ONE of the fascinating things about literature -- especially popular literature -- is the way it tracks the contours of the society that produces it. which is a fancy way of saying, maurice sendak books like "where the wild things are" not only reflected those churnings in american culture in the late 50s/early 60s, it helped produce what we learned to call "the 60s."
sendak, of course, is in the news because of friday's opening of the long-awaited spike jonze-helmed "where the wild things are" film. HERE is my story from today's LATimes, where i try to set sendak and his most famous book in cultural context. i spoke to sendak, jonze, librarian/ children's writer susan patron, and historian of children's lit seth lerer for the piece.
in the years before "wild things" came out, in 1963, the big kid-lit awards were being won by books of nursery rhymes and american patriots. robert mccloskey and e.b. white had published wonderful book in the protestant-pastoral tradition. (dr. seuss, of course, had hit his stride, though, i'm told, wasnt taken very seriously by the field's gatekeepers.)
something i wish i'd had room to get into the piece: as lerer points out, the 20th century was the first in which children typically had rooms of their own -- dickens grew up with several other kids in the bedroom with him. this allowed kids to develop their own private imaginations, but also generated anxieties -- will the room be here when i wake up? are there monsters in here with me? -- that sendak's "wild things" was one of the first to address so eloquently.
i will post at least one more "wild things" related piece as we build up to the film's release.