Format: Paperback book
Awards: National Book Award for Children’s Books, Picture Books (1982), Caldecott Honor (1982), Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Picture Book (1981)
I was very familiar with Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen as these have been read many times over in my house. I was not, however, acquainted with this book until this summer. I was reading Victor LaValle’s The Changeling which continuously alluded to this book, so I purchased it from Amazon right away. Aside from winning numerous awards and inspiring LaValle’s The Changeling, this is the book that inspired the movie Labrynth.
This book is dark, mysterious, magical. The father is away at sea. The mother is depressed, aloof.. sitting alone in the arbor, most likely experiencing postpartum depression. Ida, the older sister, is the one who must watch over her baby sister, but turns away while playing her horn, neglectful. With her back turned, faceless goblins enter through the window stealing away the baby and leaving an ice version of a baby in its place. Ida scoops up the changeling that the goblins left behind which then melts in her arms. In pursuit of her sister, Ida goes out the window backwards to “outside over there,” off to a baby goblin wedding, where the only real baby is her sister. Ida is eventually successful in recovering her sister by putting the goblins into a dancing frenzy with her tune. When she safely returns home with the baby, her mother reads a letter from her father asking her to watch over her baby sister “which is just what Ida did.”
For me, this book invited so many questions. Was it Ida’s tune initially that invited the goblins? Was she jealous of the baby and that is why she wished her away? Why was going out the window a “serious mistake?” Was it because she was going out the window backwards?
The artwork in this book is not of the cartoonish quality found in In the Night Kitchen. The art is reminiscent of 19th century German paintings. Many have compared the image of Ida floating in the sky to Bernini’s “St. Theresa’s in Ecstasy,” which brings up many questions of what kind of ecstasy might Sendak be implying that Ida is experiencing. Other hidden or not so hidden references within this book include: Mozart’s Magic Flute, the kidnapping and murder of the Lindhbergh baby, and paintings of William Blake. There is something very Freudian about the book with it’s dreamlike quality. Ida’s name is strikingly similarly to Id. Do all the characters of the dream reflect the thoughts and feelings of the dreamer?
Sendak has said that the three children’s book (Outside Over There, Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen) are part of a trilogy. He has asserted in The Art of Maurice Sendak that: “They are all variations on the same theme: how children master various feelings – danger, boredom, fear, frustration, jealousy – and manage to come to grips with the realities of their lives.” Many adults find this story creepy and disturbing whereas children are intrigued. I read this to my daughter who had just turned 5. She was mesmerized and when we finished she turned back to the page where the goblins are stealing the baby and asked me to read it again. I did and she said, “that is my favorite part.”
I love this book for pushing boundaries, for exploring themes most children’s book authors are afraid to explore, for the amazingly beautiful artwork, and for the questions and mysteries the reader is left to ponder. I highly recommend this book for everyone! Maurice Sendak has also said he does not write for children, but simply writes. He has escaped this notion that we need to protect our children from the experience of loss and strangeness in life. I remember loving Grimm’s Fairy Tales as a chid, so I can fully relate to the intrigue of this genre to children. This is a children’s book with many layers of interest for all ages.