Thursday, September 29, 2011

In the Night Kitchen - Maurice Sendak

Summary: A young boy named Mickey sleeps in his bed when he is disturbed by noise on a lower floor. Suddenly, he begins to float, and all of his clothes disappear as he drifts into a surreal world called the "Night Kitchen".

He falls naked into a giant mixing pot that contains the batter for the morning cake. While Mickey is buried in the mass, three identical bakers (who most likely resemble Oliver Hardy) mix the batter and prepare it for baking, unaware (or unconcerned) that there is a boy inside. Halfway through the baking process, the boy emerges from the oven, protesting that he is not the batter's milk.

To make up for the baking ingredient deficiency, Mickey (now wearing a bodysuit of batter from the neck down) constructs an airplane out of bread dough so he can fly to the mouth of a gigantic milk bottle. Upon reaching the bottle's opening, he dives in and briefly revels in the liquid. As his covering of batter disintegrates, he pours the needed milk in a cascade down to the bakers who joyfully finish making the morning cake.

Naked again, and with the dawn breaking, Mickey crows like a rooster and slides down the bottle to magically return to his bed. Everything is back to normal, beyond the happy memory of his experience. Summary and photo from Wikipedia.

My Review: I admit, my first thought after reading this book was, "That was the weirdest childrens' book I have ever read. Perhaps the dumbest." Because I'm a big fan of Where the Wild Things Are, I was disappointed in this award-winning (?!) book. 

Let's start with why it was banned in the first place and then touch on some positives. Like the summary states, Mickey is nude in most of the book, and Sendak didn't make an effort to encourage modesty. His genitalia looks like an extra finger, to be honest. Not a lot detail there. As I was reading this book to my young girls, ages 2 1/2 and 4, I expected them to point and ask questions, but they did neither. They were more interested in the fact that he was covered (sometimes) in cake batter and flying around in an airplane made of bread dough.

There were a couple of things about the book that I found delightful, including his cake batter suit and the "city" skyline behind him made from pantry items. That's about it. The story itself, as well as the illustrations, are very whimsical, which is expected in a book about a child's dream. However, I found it to be a little too whimsical, bordering bizarre, and wondered if Mr. Sendak was under the influence during its creation. The text was often strange, "I'm in the milk and the milk's in me. God Bless Milk and God Bless Me!" Huh? The three bakers also had identical faces (creepy). After a couple times through the book I wondered if Mr Sendak was alluding to political or societal issues in this book, but I couldn't figure out what it was.

And from the perspective of a mother who tries to encourage healthy eating in her house, I really don't like the whole point of the book -- making cake for breakfast every day. If my kids were to read this book often, I wouldn't be worried about them being influenced Mickey's anatomy, but from his eating habits. 

My Rating: 2 stars

Sum It Up: A little too whimsical and bizarre for my taste. 

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