Tuesday, May 8, 2012

In the Night Kitchen: A Tribute to Maurice Sendak

Sad day today in literature. Children's author Maurice Sendak has passed away at the age of 83, following complications from a stroke. Truth be told, his beloved and bestselling Where the Wild Things Are wasn't my favorite of his books ... and neither was it my kids' favorite. That honor belonged to the lesser-known, but no less controversial, In the Night Kitchen.

In tribute to Mr. Sendak, here's my review and thoughts on In the Night Kitchen, as originally published here on the blog on November 9, 2008, shortly before Betty and Boo turned 7 years old.  There's a book on hold at the library that I need want to pick up today.  I think I will stop in the children's room and see if they have a copy of this, too.

More and more frequently, the kids are selecting chapter books from the library to read independently and with each library visit I am more cognizant that our days of reading picture books are dwindling. One of my favorite parts of being Mom - and frankly, one of the reasons I commute home 2 hours each night instead of staying overnight at my mom's more often - is reading a picture book to the kids each night during snacktime.

So I've been trying to select the best of the best picture books that we haven't read, to make sure that a great, classic book doesn't pass us by. To that end, I'm very glad we didn't miss In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak.

Truth be told, I'm not a big fan of Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are. It just never held any appeal for me, nor the kids. So I was somewhat ambivalent about In the Night Kitchen, but we checked it out anyway and read it last night.

Elicting gales of laughter, In the Night Kitchen is now among Betty and Boo's favorites. It's a charming tale about a boy named Mickey who dreams that he falls through his bedroom floor to the night kitchen below where bakers are concocting the "morning cake." Mickey assists by transforming the cake batter into an airplane and, flying across the Milky Way, is able to procure some milk, enabling the bakers to make the cake. Betty and Boo were engulfed in hysterical laughter while I read this book. It is not going back to the library anytime soon.

Neglectful Mommy that I am, I only realized this afternoon that to my mock horror, I read a controversial book to my kids last night. Yes, there are apparently two bones of contention with Sendak's book. While falling through the night kitchen in his dream, Mickey's pajamas disappear and his little-boy nakedness is illustrated with full-frontal view. Apparently this has caused some consternation among folks and continues to do so (despite the book's publication date in 1996). I must say that while I noticed this detail, it wasn't one that the kids or I were obsessed about. One of them might have said, "Oh my God, he's naked!" but in my view, this is much P.C. ado about nothing. Lighten the hell up, people.

The other controversy, it seems, concerns the baking of the "morning cake." In addition to the little kid's nekkidness, there's much hue and cry about a book for children that seemingly promotes the notion of eating cake for breakfast. Well, I've got a news flash for the whack jobs that are so concerned about this book making toddlers want to eat cake for breakfast: that notion is ingrained in kids from the moment of conception. Bill Cosby knows what I'm talking about.

Call me cynical, call me jaded, but I can tell you that no book has ever been responsible for the lightbulb moment in a child's mind that tells him or her to torture their parents by whining for chocolate cake for breakfast (and lunch, and dinner). If anything, In the Night Kitchen promotes the idea to kids that cooking is fun.

We loved this book for its delightful, imaginative concept that there are bakers who whip up cake for our breakfasts while we we sleep and for Mickey's ability to magically enter that world. I'm glad I didn't know about the so-called controversy before checking this out; otherwise, it could very well have been among those books that we passed by while on our way to the chapter books shelves.

copyright 2012, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.


Moira said...

1996? That can't be the publication date... it was around when I was a kid. And I didn't actually know the cake part was a controversy. My kids did ask the first time we read it about the concept of having cake for breakfast, but I told them it was pancakes and it never came up again.

Kate said...

This is great! I think people who complain about stuff like this are completely crazy. If I have one hope it life it's to not become one of those parents. Please. BTW, I bought a single serving bundt pan because I plan on my kids getting to have a little cake for breakfast on their birthdays!

I agree that the publication date had to have been before 1996! I think I remember this one too. I was always partial to Where the Wild Things Are.

Great link to the Cosby quote. I love his stand up.

Sue Jackson said...

I remember both of my kids learning their days of the week at preschool by reciting Chicken Soup with Rice - I can still picture my oldest doing the little dance they learned!

Don't worry about the days of reading picture books to your kids fading away - now they are old enough to read chapter books aloud to them! We did that until our sons were in their teens, and we have lots of great memories of those times together. My husband and I read the entire Narnia series aloud to them. And they still remember how great Dad was at doing the southern accent when he read Alabama Moon to them!


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Jenna said...

LOVE love love that Cosby clip.

Anna Lefler said...

Although I will never, EVER believe that cooking is fun...I love Maurice Sendak and he will be missed.

This is a lovely tribute.

:-) Anna

....Petty Witter said...

Joining you from Kate's Library who linked to this post. Where The Wild Things Are is one of my treasured childhood reads but I have never actually read anything else by this author, something I intend to put right starting with this book.

Nice to have met you, I've enjoyed my visit.