Classic Bedtime Stories: Where the Wild Things Are

'Where the Wild Things Are,' by Maurice Sendak, is an immensely popular bedtime story, with approximately 20 million copies sold since it was first published in 1963. The story of Max traveling to a distant land contains a message with which many children and parents can connect. The book's enduring popularity has resulted in numerous adaptations since its original publication.

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About the Story

Where the Wild Things Are centers on young Max, a boy who wears a wolf costume and makes 'mischief of one kind and another.' When his mischief goes too far, Max is sent to his room without supper. That night, a forest grows in his room and an ocean appears. Max sails off in a small boat for days, then weeks, then nearly a year before landing in the land of the wild things.

The wild things are giant creatures who roar, gnash their teeth and show their 'terrible claws.' Max is not frightened, though. Instead, he commands them to be still and becomes the ruler of the wild things. After playing with his new friends, Max begins to feel lonely for home. Despite the protests of the wild things, Max sets sail in his boat and returns to his room, where his supper is waiting.

Where the Wild Things Are Maurice Sendak

The Story's Message

On the surface, Where the Wild Things Are is a story about a boy's vivid imagination. Max creates an entire world in his imagination, populated by unusual creatures with whom he interacts. In addition to its physical elements, the world of Max's imagination also transcends time, as he spends nearly two years traveling back and forth to the land of the wild things, yet perhaps only minutes pass in real time.

Delving deeper, it's a story about anger and how a young boy handles it. Max uses his imagination to temporarily run away from his frustrations with his mother. He takes his unfulfilled desire for power that is muted when he's sent to his room and creates his own world in which he is in charge. He rules over monsters, which makes him as wild and powerful as he wants to be. Yet ultimately his anger fades. He realizes that he loves his mother more than he loves power, causing him to abandon his imagination for the real world.

Other Versions

Where the Wild Things Are has resonated with readers for decades, resulting in numerous other versions of the story, including a 1973 animated short film. In the 1980s, Sendak worked on a children's opera based on the story that has been produced sporadically ever since. More recently, Spike Jonze directed a live-action feature-length film of the book in 2009, with Sendak serving as one of the film's producers.

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