Maurice Sendak, one of the true giants of children’s literature, died on May 8 at the age of 83. This post is dedicated to him.
In 1964, Mr. Sendak, in spare words and exuberantly scary pictures, launched a defiant child named Max on a journey that took him sailing
…off through night and day
And in and out of weeks
and almost over a year
to where the wild things are.
With the publication of that book, Where the Wild Things Are, Mr. Sendak sent the field of children’s literature into uncharted waters as well. This classic work is so familiar to all of us now that it is hard to imagine how different it was from what preceded it. For the first time, the darker side of childhood was examined in a book for young children. In Where the Wild Things Are and other titles, Sendak uses dreamlike settings and powerful imagery to depict difficult emotions like anger, fear and rebelliousness. In each instance, his characters confront and cope with these feelings in ways that ring true for children and adults alike.
As a remembrance of Maurice Sendak, here are some writing prompts to spur students in creating a picture book based on his work:
Where the Wild Things Are. In this book, a jungle grew in Max’s room after he was sent to bed without any supper. If you were mad at your parent, what type of fantastical setting would your room transform into? How would you journey through it? What would be scary about your destination? What would be funny about it? How would you meet the challenges you found there and make your way home? What would be waiting for you there?
Outside Over There. Your best friend has been stolen away by magical beings. It is your job to find your friend and perform a rescue. Describe where you go and what you do.
Higglety Pigglety Pop. Your pet just ran away from home. Why? Where will it go? What adventures will it have (the wilder, the better)? Will your pet learn anything or change in any way? Will it come home? (If you don’t have a pet, make one up or write about an animal leaving the zoo.)
The Nutshell Library. The Nutshell Library consists of four tiny books in a boxed collection: One Was Johnny, a counting story; Alligators All Around, an alphabet story, Chicken Soup With Rice (my absolute personal favorite), a story about the months of the year, and Pierre, a cautionary tale about an unpleasant little boy. Students could make small books on one or more of those themes. To house a library of four books, a tea box can be cut up and stapled together into a smaller box, then decoupaged to make a home for the collection.