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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

My exploration of banned and controversial books: In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak

While I was conducting some online research about children's books that address social issues, I ran across a few lists of banned children's books. That's was an immediate invitation for me to start reading each and every single one of them, and I was surprised to discover that I have already read a few that show up on many lists, including In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak. 

My first reaction: Maurice Sendak has a banned book? The Little Bear author? My now 22-year-old son and I used to read those books and watch the television series on Nickelodeon. Where the Wild Things Are Maurice Sendak? Oh, that one has controversy around it too.

I did not recall anything controversial about In the Night Kitchen, so I ran straight to my public library to check it out (and there are many copies available, not banned). According to many websites, I had missed the nudity of 3-year old Mickey (buttocks and genitals, the sexual innuendo of a free-flowing milk, and the phallic appearance of a large milk bottle. Well if that isn't an advertisement to go back and read it again, I don't know what is! 

So here is an example of Mickey's nudity:

This is a children's book, for goodness sake, and little kids like to be naked. If you have a little one who is not nude or half-nude right now, you have probably forced that child into clothes. I remember my son stripping down in our foyer every day immediately after arriving home from daycare. Every. Day. He also used to take his little naked body and watch himself dance in front of a full length mirror. It was funny. This is funny. Kids get to giggle because there is a naked boy in a book, and parents get to giggle because we recognize the inside joke. And as Americans, we really need to get over this prudish fear of nudity (my most humble opinion).

My guess is that Sendak recognized that kids enjoy being naked and created a character to which they could relate - particularly little boys. I am fighting a never ending battle of getting boys to read in middle school. Maybe if they had all read this book, they would still be reading now. Maybe if I share it with my seventh and eighth grade students, they might pick up another book.

Here are examples of the milk controversies:

Oh, people...if you are seeing something in that picture that is not there, that is completely on you. That's your mind. And that is disturbing! Like Where the Wild Things Are, this is the story of a little boy's adventures via his dreams. Into the kitchen. Where people make cake. And maybe he really likes cake. I know I do. 

If you have an issue with the nudity, do not read the book. That does not mean, however, that you are able to speak for others who wish to encourage creativity and imagination and curiosity and adventure in our children. And that, as always, is my most humble opinion. 

P.S. If you truly want to be rebellious, you can purchase the coloring book version for your kids. 

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