Maurice Sendak's 'In the Night Kitchen' Is More Offensive to Parents Than Kids (VIDEO)


in the night kitchenI 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

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Eques... EquestrianMom

Yup, I have a very worn copy of this book (and many of his others) from my childhood, which were passed to my 14 yr younger then me sister, and are now back with me for my son to read. 

 I like this book, a lot! Pictures of a peepee or not :P Why? Because nothing in the book makes a big deal of the fact that he falls out of his clothes, it has no sexual inuendo to it, it's just a lil boy who fell out of his clothes. I'm actually very grateful for it as my son is getting to an inbetween age, where he no longer strips his clothes off to run nakey around the yard while playing in sprinklers. Because he understands he should be covered. But he doesn't quiet understand why, and so sometimes he is ashamed to be seen nude (or even in his undies) which makes me sad. Mickey in the milk is a great book for us, because that young boy is brave, with or without his clothes! 

 I want my son to understand that we wear clothes to be polite, not because we are ashamed of what god gave us. And that we wear clothes for our privacy, not because what we are covering is "bad". Mickey in the Milk is a great conversation starter for us on this sensative subject, and for that, I love it.

nonmember avatar HS

I've never seen this book (probably cuz of uber-conservative parents and the ban). However, I did get for my 3 year old son, the Once Upon A Potty book which not only illustrates a little boy's penis (not in as much detail as referenced book) but his butt and butthole as well. My son loved the fact that the little boy had a "weiner" like him and curly hair like him too. He doesn't realize that society feels nudity is a no-no, especially with children. He was just excited to see a child who looks like him AND uses the potty *gasp* lol. That book successfully helped me potty train him (Yaaay) and gave him a character to relate too. It's done tastefully as I believe Mr. Sendak's book is as well based on what I've seen here. Little kids get naked, point blank, and should feel comfortable enough to do so safely in the comfort of their own home as both of these books illustrate.

nonmember avatar HS

Great explanation, equestrianmom! I hope I remember that when my son starts asking those sort of questions.

Saphi... SaphiraJFire

I have honestly never heard of the book. lol I would haveto even see it to pass any judgement about it.

brina... brinaleigh10

wow i have never heard of this book.. but i would love to know where i can get a copy of it for my son if anybody knows???


lalas... lalasmama2007

We don't have this book, but we rented a video from the library of Maurice Sendak's books and I was surprised when we saw little Mickey's penis.  My DD is 4 and she just laughed.

lalas... lalasmama2007 is still selling this book.

Eques... EquestrianMom

I didn't even know the book was banned, although that explains why my very worn, split backed, dog eared copy hasn't been re[laced in 20 years! LMAO! 

nonmember avatar Momof3girls

We love this story in my house. My girls don't freak about nakedness because we teach them that bodies are beautiful and body parts are body parts whether it be an arm, a penis or a vagina. Little kids get naked, bigger kids need to cover up to be polite. Desire for privacy eventually comes around on it's own.
Were there giggles when my oldest finally realized it was a naked boy? Yup. But we talk about the differences between boys and girls and their similarities as well. It's only a big deal if YOU make it a big deal. This story is wonderful and fun as is the video from Scholastic.

Tanya Adams

Maurice Sendak has died... so sad. In the night kitchen was my go-to book for my three sons when they were tiny tots in the early eighties. I was delightfully scandalized at the pictures but the boys didn't even notice. They just loved the story and the illustrations and snuggled around me as we read it over and over again. Now I look at my grown men and the touching moments this book created for a young mother and her children bring tears to my eyes. I had forgotten how much this book meant to my family, but now I have a 1 1/2 year old grandson who has Mickey's round body and sense of adventure. I'll be buying In the Night Kitchen to share with another cuddly baby boy who loves to plop into my lap and "read" picture books.

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