[Monday Reading] Finding Wild in Picturebooks

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading

Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community.

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We have just recently launched our new reading theme for September-October: Into the Wild – The Untamed, The Mischievous, Artists and Rebels in Literature.

And so, for my initial post, allow me to re-share a few picturebooks that Fats and I have featured over the past several months/years that are in keeping with wildness and a new-to-me picturebook that I fell in love with.

IMG_6587Finding Wild

Written byMegan Wagner Lloyd Pictures by: Abigail Halpin
Published byAlfred A. Knopf, 2016
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

Sometimes a book catches hold of you and never lets go – feeding the untamed within. I feel that my inner dryad has been awakened by this lyrical picturebook that knows wildness in its core:

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There is a sweeping green to this story. Sometimes tucked in little corners, or sneaking up on the reader unawares. But most often, it is described as a whiff of the wind, a grazing on the cheek, a gurgle of a lake somewhere:

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If there is a book that encourages young children to find the wild outdoors, this would be it. My favourite page spread would probably be the one below, as one sees how life would be like without the wild:

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What happens indeed if everything is “paved, ordered and tidy” and the wild isn’t allowed to breathe. What then, if you live on the edge where everything is grey? How does one take in air, really? This is a book to savour, smell, touch, and hug to one’s heart. I anticipate this winning a lot of awards next year.

WildIMG_9839

Written and Illustrated by: Emily Hughes
Published byFlying Eye Books, 2013
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

Wild is this tangled mess of greens and bursting whites and untamed blues that ripple out into the open sea.

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This young girl is reared in the wild, taught by the birds to speak, by the bears to hunt, by the foxes to play, and by the forest to find a home in trees, with the open skies her blanket.

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Then one day a couple found her in the forest. And bless-their-well-meaning-hearts, they took it upon themselves to take her home, as strange as she was, and find a suitable place for her.

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This turned out to be the home of a famed psychiatrist who decided to take in what the papers called a ‘feral child.’

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Armed with statistically-reliable psychological tests, shining utensils, and age-recommended/suitable toys for young girls, the couple set about their self-ordained task of taming this wild girl.

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Whether or not they succeeded in making her more ‘civilized’ I shall leave for you to discover. What a fascinating read into what constitutes civilized behaviour, from whose lenses is the notion of ‘wild’ defined, and whether having four walls, a window, gadgets, and letters necessarily make one a better being. Because at the end of the day “you cannot tame something so happily wild.”

IMG_1588Mr Tiger Goes Wild

Written and Illustrated byPeter Brown
Published by: Macmillan Children’s Books, 2013. Winner of CYBILS 2013 Fiction Picturebook
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

Let me just quote from Jane Breen (of Piper Loves the Library)’s write-up which effectively summarized the committee’s thoughts about the book. This could also be found in the Cybils website.

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild opens to muted tones of a proper Victorian society of well-mannered animals, living in houses and walking on two legs. Surrounded by an abundance of subdued suits, ties, dresses and tea, the daily hum-drum pushes Mr. Tiger outside the city limits to a place where he can ROAR! But first he undergoes the drama and surprising silliness of life on four legs, a swim in the water fountain and *gasp* a view of his magnificent, naked self. Confident artistic elements start on the decorative endpapers, capitalize on the freedom of double page illustrations, built intensity with the color palette, and combine seamlessly with the lean text of most carefully selected words. With great comedic timing and a light-handed touch on message, Peter Brown has written a clever, compelling invitation to self-discovery.  

I personally feel that this is an immensely powerful book that celebrates the richness of diversity and being true to one’s self without necessarily distancing one’s self from everyone else. Mr Tiger eventually found a happy compromise without sacrificing his integrity or his truth – how he managed this I shall leave for you to discover. Definitely a book to treasure. And a sure winner.

Fats’ super-thorough review of Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are

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There Were Dark Times and Then There Was Light

The journey of the Wild Things to success was not smooth. First published in 1963 by Harper & Row, Where the Wild Things Are was met with criticisms from book critics, teachers, librarians, parents, and child psychologists. It was banned from libraries for being “too dark.” In an article written by Francine Kaplan at JBooks.com, she mentioned:

“Child psychologist Dr. Bruno Bettleheim, who had not read the book, came out against it. Sendak was disparaged for portraying a disobedient youngster and creating images that could frighten an impressionable child.”

While these grown-ups had decided that Where The Wild Things Are was not meant for children, children of all ages loved, adored, and treasured Maurice Sendak’s groundbreaking work. The book eventually found its way back to libraries, received critical acclaim, and has been adapted into an animated film, an opera, and a full-length live-action Hollywood movie.

The “Unpleasant” Child and the Monsters of Childhood

Pen and ink illustration by matthewart on deviantART. Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

“The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind and another
his mother called him “WILD THING!”
and Max said “I’LL EAT YOU UP!”
so he was sent to bed without eating anything.”
— Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are

I don’t remember how the idea of featuring Where the Wild Things Are came about. I only remember thinking that it was the perfect opportunity for me to watch the movie. I watched the movie the other night, the one directed by Spike Jonze in 2009. It takes about six to nine minutes to read the 40-page picture book, so you can imagine the liberty that Jonze took to expand the book into an hour-and-forty-minute-long feature film.

I find it amusing how adults had reacted over Max’s “wild side” in the book. The film certainly expounded on that, and I thought they did a good job illustrating Max’s mischievousness. People have argued that the book and the film were not for kids. While I have no direct quote of an adult’s negative response towards the book, I can surmise that part of the reason why the book was banned was because Max was a “bad apple” and his behavior would encourage children to be as just as “wild” – wreaks havoc, talks back to parents, and is physically violent.

“And the wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws.”
— Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are

Furthermore, adults probably found Sendak’s wild things too beastly and too monstrous for children. They are big and furry, have yellow eyes, horns on their heads, and sharp fangs and claws.

Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

This, however, is what I think: children are naturally “wild.” They are a ball of infinite energy, full of spunk and wonder, are cunning and free-spirited. They can be mischievous at times but are not necessarily “bad.” This “wildness” is second nature to children. Max was just being … Max. He does what he does best: being a kid. And the wild things that parents and teachers fear? These are the monsters of childhood, the embodiment of children’s fears, borne out of children’s wits and imagination. Monsters “exist” because children believe in them, believe for them to be true.

“And the walls became the world all around.”
— Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are

Where the Wild Things Are is a book that is close to home. As a psych major, I could not help but give a Freudian reading of the book and the film. While watching the film, I was reminded of Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth. The book did not mention anything about Max’s father, but it was suggested in the film. There was also no mention of a sister, but the film showed how Max’s sister refused to play with him and started hanging out with children her age. Max turns to his “wild side” and travels to the island of wild things as a means of dealing with family issues the way that Ofélia dealt with the hard life during the Civil War.

“These are difficult times for children. Children have to be brave to survive what the world does to them. And this world is scrungier and rougher and dangerouser than it ever was before.”
— Maurice Sendak

Max and the wild things see eye to eye. Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

I believe that the wild things are also a reflection of Max’s emotions. He creates the island of the wild things to escape reality. He wants to find someone—or something—who would understand him or spend time with him. I was a quarter into the film when I found myself crying. Ah, the emotional junkie in me. I like the part where Douglas asked Max, “Will you keep out all the sadness?” To which Max replied, “I have a sadness shield that keeps out all the sadness, and it’s big enough for all of us.” Sendak’s and Jonze’s wild things are similar. At first look, yes, they are scary. In the book, you will see that these wild things know how to smile and have a good, “wild rumpus.” In the film, you will learn about their sadness, and how they do not want to be sad anymore. I say we should be mindful of the old adage, “Do not judge a book by its cover.”

Beyond the Pages of the Book

Here are a few “Wild” activities that parents and teachers can share with children:

>> Borders Stores provides a set of activity sheets in a downloadable PDF file.

>> United Teaching Discoveries shares some Arts and Crafts activities for kids.

>> Courtney from Bloesem Kids teaches you how to make a Wild Thing Tote.

9 Comments on [Monday Reading] Finding Wild in Picturebooks

  1. I’ve read and enjoyed all of these, love the new theme, Myra, and I too have wondered why adults have deemed Where The Wild Things Are as unsuitable-silly them! I did see the movie a long time ago, had forgotten about it, but we took our grandson to see it. He was about 8 I think, and loved it. Thanks for sharing your own “wild things”.

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  2. Where The Wild Things Are and Finding Wild are both terrific books. I ordered Wild and Mr. Tiger Goes Wild from my local library as I somehow missed out on reading those. Your theme looks like a lot of fun!

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  3. Finding Wild looks so gorgeous! What beautiful illustrations.

    My It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? post.

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  4. Love this theme – Into the Wild! that little phrase takes me in so many directions. You have a perfect list of books to go with it. Now I am thinking of middle grade books – Hatchet comes to mind as an older book but the new release The Wild Robot fits here as well. There are so many great books. I will start a list. What fun!

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  5. I agree with Joanne that The Wild Robot needs to be included in this Into the Wild theme. (How I loved that book) I think I have read all these books, but I especially appreciated your analysis of Where the Wild things Are. It was a family favourite of ours. Many years ago when my children were little the family got together to celebrate one of my aunt’s 50th birthdays. The younger children (age 2 to 8) put on a play of it. One of the older ones read the story while the younger ones (outfitted in costumes) acted out the play. Thanks so much for the memory.

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  6. What a wonderful selection of books! Finding Wild is a particular favourite of mine, the illustrations in particular are just so lush and inviting, you feel like you’re being pulled right into the story. Fantastic stuff.

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  7. The illustrations in Finding Wild are stunning; having not even read the words, I can feel why it would really grab hold of you. Thanks for sharing, will have to keep my eye out for that one.

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  8. Oh this post! I adore it – many of my favourite titles are here. I love how Wild is being celebrated in picture books lately!

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  9. Wow, not only did you find books around the same theme but they are all beautifully illustrated. Max from the Where the Wild Things Are apparently makes an appearance in Ruth Krauss’ Bears illustrated by Sendak!

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