Literary Substance in Children’s Picture Books and Mastering Emotion

Through imagination and a well developed story, the picture book writer adds illustrations to provide literary substance to his story.  Pictures that reflect the characters’ goals and emotions reinforce the author’s storyline, further drawing the young reader in.

In order to uphold the literary significance of the late Maurice Sendak’s story: Where the Wild Things Are, Sendak created a protagonist who interacts with wild beasts to illustrate how children might master their emotions of fear, anger or frustration.

Sendak’s protagonist is a young boy named Max who is sent to his room with no supper as a form of punishment given by his parents for his misbehavior. In his frustration, Max turns his bedroom into a jungle where he is confronted by beasts he refers to as the Wild Things.  Max appoints himself as  the “king” of the wild things and romps around with the wild thing beasts on their jungle island.  But, after a while when Max starts to miss his parents and the safety of his bedroom he sails back home to find a hot dinner waiting for him.

Containing some of the elements of Wizard of Oz, the story depicts a character who escapes his perceived injustices by traveling to a more colorful land in which there might be opportunity to attain the justice he felt deprived of back home.  Of course, in the end the character realizes there really is no place like home, however,  it took an imaginative journey in order to come to this conclusion.

In Sendak’s story, Max acts out his frustrations and anger by conjuring up magical, ferocious beasts who are wild and free, something he desires to be, while in Oz Dorothy runs away hoping to find someone she can trust who will help her save her dog.  While Max creates beasts to represent each of his emotions; anger at his parents for not letting him do what he wants and frustration at being punished by them, Dorothy on the other hand- travels far away to a place where she hopes to find safety and love.  Neither character finds what he is looking for in the distant and strange places they create in their imaginations, rather they find what they desired in the place from which they started out, at home sweet home.

Balancing the merry go round of emotions that flutter around inside each one of us, Sendak’s  Wild Things centers on the emotional changes the child undergoes as a part of his growth and development. Max acts out his temper tantrum through his imaginative journey to the land of the wild things where he can finally be free. Yet after acting out his emotions and getting the freedom he thought he desired, he realizes in the end that he already had what he needed….that perhaps home, where he is loved, is not so bad after all.

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