The wild things are my aunts, uncles and cousins who used to come from the old country, those few who got in before the gate closed... These people didn't speak English, only Yiddish. And they were unkempt. Their teeth were horrifying. They had hair unravelling out of their noses. And they'd pick you up and hug you and kiss you. 'Aggghh. Oh, we could eat you up,' they'd say... that's who the wild things are. Foreigners, lost in America without a language.I really identify with this picture of loving, intense, lost relatives. (Although my relatives weren't unkempt) and I love the clarity and passion with which Sendak defended his work (in a speech he made accepting the Caldecott award) against those who find it too scary for children:
Max...discharges his anger against his mother, and returns to the real world sleepy, hungry, and at peace with himself.
Certainly we want to protect our children form new and painful experiences that are beyond their emotional comprehension and that intensify anxiety; and to a point we can prevent premature exposure to such experiences. That is obvious. But what is just as obvious—and what is too often overlooked—is the fact that from their earliest years children live on familiar terms with disrupting emotions, that fear and anxiety are an intrinsic part of their everyday lives, that 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.
It is my involvement with this inescapable fact of childhood—the awful vulnerability of children and their struggle to make themselves King of all Wild Things—that gives my work whatever truth and passion it may have.A lot of children grow up, as I did, with grownups who are loving and kind and wonderful but also bewildered, struggling, lost, trying to get past the bad memories of persecution and oppression. I think I must have loved Sendak's books because they weren't afraid to acknowledge that. I still do.