I loved Stephen Colbert's interview with Where the Wild Things Are author Maurice Sendak. I knew the writer was kind of a crank, but I didn't realize he was such a droll and charming crank. We share similar political views, apparently, and how delicious that he says he doesn't even write for children. I think it's made his books more fun for the adults who read them to their kids.
My favorite Sendak book is In the Night Kitchen. We've read it so many times now that we almost can't say the word "milk" without adding "for the morning cake!" But the book is probably best known for being banned in libraries all over the country -- including our local library when I was growing up.
All the controversy is over a little boy's penis. If you haven't read the book before, it's about a little boy named Mickey who has a naked dream -- as we all do from time to time. He slips out of his clothes and goes on to fly a dough airplane in the kitchen. And Sendak doesn't bother hiding Mickey's penis because that would just be prissy, and that's not Sendak's style.
I have vague memories of seeing this book before it was banned. Maybe we owned it. I can't remember exactly, but I think my mom was okay with it. I mean, I have TWO little brothers, so the sight of little Mickey's penis was not news to me. I was a jaded 7-year-old who had already seen it all -- at least on little boys.
Years and years later I bought it for my own son and had to laugh nervously at the weenie pics. Just on their own, the illustrations are perfectly innocent (if a little cheeky). And my son thought they were utterly unremarkable. But for me they brought back memories of media stories about child pornography paranoia. I mean, here's how Stephen Colbert (pretending to be a homophobic bigot, of course) puts it all together when he finds out Sendak is gay: "Why are you allowed to write children's books?" We're stuck with this horrible stereotype about gay men and little boys that isn't fair or accurate at all. Yeah, a gay man wrote a book illustrated with pictures of a naked little boy -- so what?!?
And then, after Stephen points out all the penises (which he's "helpfully" clipped out), he asks, "Why are you printing a smutty book?" Sendak's answer is perfect. "Because ... he's a boy!" And more than anything else, it makes me long for the real innocence of childhood, the one Sendak manages to tap into, the innocence that doesn't know anything about pedophiles or bigots or people who ban books.
Do you have this book? What do you think about the illustrations in In the Night Kitchen?
Image via Colbert Report/Hulu