Right now many adults are revisiting (and perhaps introducing their kids to) the 1963 classic Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, thanks largely to the new film adaptation of the book from director Spike Jonze. From the critics salivating over the new film to readers and scholars with fond memories of Sendak’s book, most fans agree that Where The Wild Things Are is impeccable in its celebration of childhood imagination and groundbreaking in its recognition of childhood angst and anger, even. But you can troll the web yourself for in-depth critical analysis of the book–I’ll try to steer clear of all of that.
In my day-to-day library work, I’m often stumbling onto old childhood favorites of mine, books that resonated for one reason or another. Here are a few of the ones that are truly special to me:
Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale by John Steptoe: I remember truly enjoying this book, not for the intriguing Cinderella-esque story alone but also because of Steptoe’s gorgeous and evocative illustrations. The thing that struck me most about the artwork was that it seemed to have so much richness and texture. The illustrations had this quality about them that made me want to reach out and touch the characters.
Miss Nelson is Missing by Harry Allard: To this day, this book reminds me of my 4th grade teacher Miss Armstrong. She was a very sweet lady but my class sort of took her kindness for weakness. Miss Armstrong would have done well to have a raven-haired alter ego like Miss Viola Swamp, with scary make-up and even scarier temperament.
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats: As a kid growing up in Atlanta, where the snowy days are few and far between, it was a real treat reading about the travails of little Peter in the beautifully snow-covered city.
Also, I’ve found some great adult books that celebrate the works of some of the great authors of children’s literature:
The Art of Maurice Sendak by Selma G. Lanes: This book is a smorgasbord for Sendak fans that features essays on his life, his career and his body of work as an illustrator and author. My favorite things about this book so far are the pages (three foldout pages!) of his brilliant artwork and a facsimile of “Where The Wild Horses Are“, the prototype of what would become the aforementioned Sendak masterpiece.
The Art of Eric Carle: This incredible book reflects upon the life and the art of legendary (and one of my favorite) children’s author Eric Carle. Much like Carle’s stunning book illustrations and artwork, this book is multi-textured and very colorful, an insightful collage of autobiography, essays and tributes from his peers and admirers.
Do you remember your favorite books from childhood? What are the qualities that make these books truly special?