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on June 14, 2003
I didn't want to give this book five stars. I fought against it, because I don't particularly enjoy the book. The illustrations aren't that attractive to me and it took me a while to get used to the rhythm of the words.
Having said that, I give this book five stars because my daughter LOVES this book. I sometimes have to hide it at night because I'm so tired of reading the "Mickey" book. Apparently Sendak knows an awful lot about what children like and how their minds work, because my daughter seldom tires of the story. (Her favorite part is when Mickey takes the measuring cup and goes up and up over the Milky Way.)
I'm honestly a little surprised over the "nekkid" controversy. It's not like the boy is drawn in explicit detail! My daughter's seen boy babies getting their diapers changed, so the concept of a penis is HARDLY frightening/startling/damaging to her. Geez, lighten up people!
Also, for those who were complaining about the concept of cake for breakfast, why don't we consider how many American children get French toast, pancakes, donuts, poptarts, or sugar-coated cereals for breakfast? Hardly nutritionally superior to cake, so I'm not lying in bed at night obsessing about the poor nutritional messages this book is sending to my child. :-)
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on April 13, 2000
At age four or five I deemed this the greatest picture book ever, and in almost 30 years I have never changed my mind. Every aspect of it is so beautiful and inspired, from the surreal color tones and the supple, flowing line to the swift yet dreamlike pace. But just as impressive is its plot.
Mickey's journey is startling, evocative, and totally convincing as a dream. His story gets deep under your skin because Sendak plays with the tension between some of the most powerful oppositions in childhood: the unknown versus the familiar, vulnerability versus security, dependence versus empowerment, creativity versus consumption. Yet the tone is light, playful, and encouraging.
Besides being a joyous read, this book is perfect for the developing mind because it encourages physical creativity to solve problems: the scene in which Mickey molds the cake-batter into an airplane is pure genius. And his actions blend surrealism, initiative, altruism, and a celebration of the self in a way that no other picture book I've ever seen has. Children will be deeply and wonderfully affected, even if it takes them years to figure out why.
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on October 5, 2004
"In The Night Kitchen" is the bizarre, surreal story of Mickey and his journey into the mysterious night kitchen where bakers are preparing the 'morning cake.' Mickey is the savior of the story getting the key ingredient, Milk, for the bakers to complete the cakes. Like "Where the Wild Things Are," "In The Night Kitchen" is the dream of the main character. Where Max's room turns into a jungle, Mickey "falls/ floats" down through his room into the fantastical kitchen-world that appears to be below his house. The story is a child's dream. It is not supposed to make perfect sense to adult minds. In all honesty, the book seemed a little weird and disjointed to me at first. But my son instantly loved it. He is now 3.5 and we have been reading this book to him pretty consistently for about a year and a half now. He still loves it. It grew on me as well. The subtleties in the art are very well placed, more so than "Where the Wild Things Are." If you realize the book is just the surreal journey of a child's dream you may not get weirded out by it, and may begin to appreciate the book for what it is, a great child's story. As mentioned, Mickey does get naked as he transitions from his bedroom to the night kitchen and into his 'dough-suit,' then again as he transitions back to his house. As it seems a lot of people get stuck on this one facet of the book. Chances are if a child being naked in a children's book makes you uncomfortable, you probably won't like this one for you kids and should probably just avoid it.
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Sometimes my job as a children's librarian leads me to think one way or another about a book. For example, if I discover that a book has been banned by a school or public library somewhere, that same book acquires all sorts of interest that it might never have gotten before. "In the Night Kitchen" is one such book. Banned for the nudity of its main character this title has always been considered the second rung in Maurice Sendak's creative and artistic trio (the first being "Where the Wild Things Are" and the third "Outside Over There"). Fuddy-duddy adults everywhere are consistently and predictably shocked by Mickey, the young protagonist who prefers to experience his adventures au naturale. By all rights I should enjoy this book. It has everything going for it! It has been banned, it's by the greatest living children's author today, it is considered a classic, and some of the newest reissues of it are breathtakingly gorgeous. I mean, they just don't reprint books like this twenty-fifth anniversary edition no more. That said, it's probably my least favorite Sendak creation. Sad isn't it? Though I'll fight to the death to keep this book on library shelves everywhere, I must admit that I don't much like it myself. It all just comes down to individual taste.

One night, Mickey hears an awful racket and by a process of falling and clothing removal finds himself in cake batter. The cake batter is in a gigantic bowl tended by three cooks who each bear a striking resemblance to Oliver Hardy. Mistaking Mickey for milk (it could happen to anyone) they mix the batter up with him in it and pop it into the oven. The baking doesn't work though and Mickey, now clothed in a suit of cake batter, fashions a small bi-plane out of bread dough. With a jaunty measuring cup on his head, he flies up to the top of a gigantic bottle of milk into which he dives (thereby losing his clothes again). He then pours some milk down to the grateful chefs and a cake is baked. Then Mickey floats gently downward into his bed once more, "cakefree and dried". The moral of the story? "And that's why, thanks to Mickey we have cake every morning". The end.

So why don't I like it? I do in a way. This is Sendak at his detailed and wholly intricate best. The world of ingredients in which most of this story plays is almost as intriguing as the main story. I guess when you come right down to it, I've never much cared for this brand of surrealism. If something's surreal (like "The Red Book" by Barbara Lehman or "Who Needs Donuts?" by Mark Stamaty) then I need it to see it hold together in some way. "In the Night Kitchen" plays like an odd dream that a child might really have. A child that's watched too many Laurel and Hardy films, that is. I haven't a problem with the nudity. It's the whole baking into a cake aspect, I guess, that sets me off. That and the plot that isn't a plot. Though a tribute to Wildsor McKay's, "Little Nemo", I think I prefer the original itself. Actually, I did love how Sendak slips an oblique tip-of-the-hat to this master of the Sunday funny pages. It happens in a picture where Mickey glares from a bowl. He is being covered in ingredients and below him we see some sugar with tiny words on the label reading, "Chicken Little, Nemo". I'm no genius, but it doesn't take much to remove that comma and see the words, "Little Nemo" float before your eyes. Nicely done, Mr. S.

Of this book, its editor Ursula Nordstrom had this to say: "I think young children will always react with delight to such a book as 'In the Night Kitchen', and that they will react creatively and wholesomely. It is only adults who ever feel threatened by Sendak's work". She also says, "Should not those of us who stand between the creative artist and the child be very careful not to sift our reactions to such books through our own adult prejudices and neuroses?". We should indeed. A former college roommate once bemoaned to me the popularity of this book, citing her own childhood objections to its baking-kids ethic. It's hard to read a picture book and not find yourself weighed down by your own prejudices and hang-ups. Obviously, my friend objected to the book as a kid and that carried over into her adulthood whereas I met this book as an adult and was put off by it late in life. I would never prevent a child from reading it or hesitate to recommend it to someone who was already a fan of Sendak's work. I just don't care much for it personally, though I don't know how much weight that carries with you. This is a book that is going to get a different reaction out of every person who reads it. If you want a title that pleases everyone everywhere, look elsewhere. If, on the other hand, you want a highly original picture book for a creative kid who isn't squeamish in the least, "In the Night Kitchen" is the place to start. I didn't like it, but that isn't to say that someone else won't love it.
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on June 29, 2002
Shame on all you book burners and imagination stompers!
This wonderful story of a child dreaming of what happens after children go to bed (didn't we all wonder at one point?) is a favorite in my house. My 1 year old and 2 1/2 year old know every word (they read along and dance with the bakers). My daughter imagines flying in a "squishy" plane over the top of the Milky Way and loves to help me cook. Sendak has a unique and irreplaceable grasp of a child's mind and imagination. It's too bad so many other grown-ups have lost that. If that's what growing up involves, I'll stay a kid forever.
BTW, my kids run around the house naked and there is nothing more beautiful than their chubby bare bottoms. But don't worry, I won't inflict YOUR children with such "obscenity". Get a grip, people. It's a beautiful, fun story of imagination.
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on April 2, 1998
Those of you who like Maurice Sendak, will like this book, but dont expect any "wildthings". This story is full of the true joy of experiencing of a childs dreams. Mickey is an adventurer in the world of the night kitchen, he flies his own plane that he makes from dough. He is only too happy to assist the baking that goes on during the night so there will be cake in the morning. Mickeys wild adventure takes him out of his pajamas, he is quite naked throughout the about every little childs dream! Mickeys adventures are fun, and makes us want to have the same dream when we close our eyes at night. We should all remember how much joy the simple things can bring to us. The smile on Mickeys face says it all, happiness is easy to find, just close your eyes and dream.
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on October 6, 2002
Maurice Sendak is one of my very favourite children's authors and illustrators. However, I wasn't introduced to "In the Night Kitchen" until my husband insisted we buy it for our child. He loved it when he was a kid and loves it still (by the way, and this may be irrelevant, he's a great cook).
The story is about a little boy whose dream takes him to the Night Kitchen where the bakers are making the morning cake. The bakers have a glitch and Mickey is able to come to the rescue. And of course, Mickey is the reason why there are delicious things to eat in the morning (hooray for Mickey).
The whole idea of bakers working in the wee morning hours creating yummy things for our breakfasts is an intriguing idea and one that isn't talked about very often. However, those croissants, bagels, and delicious pastries are made in "Night Kitchens" the world over. This book, besides being entertaining, is actually educational.
The illustrations are vivid and are reminiscent of big cities (like NYC). The style is bold and engaging. Yes, Mickey is nude sometimes but I don't feel the drawings are graphic. Unless you have strong feelings against any portrayal of nudity, don't let that put you off. The book is certainly is worth a read (and you can always preview it before you share it with your kids). You may love it as we do.
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on August 24, 2005
But children's dreams are often strange - and, unlike us, they don't always know that a dream is a dream. Reading a book about a strange dream where everything ends up all right is a good thing. They don't have to be scared of the real dreams, right?

I'm frankly stunned by the people who complain about the nudity. He's a toddler. Toddlers run around naked. Adults see toddlers naked. Your little boy knows what little boys look like, and chances are your little girl either does know (if she has brothers) or will know eventually. The facts of life? Just say "boys are like this, girls are like that". That's easy to understand.

I'm even more stunned by the comments "nudity is all right, but it doesn't belong here". If nudity is all right, why does it matter if a boy is drawn naked or clothed? Clothing might be inappropriate as well! Don't tell me *you* haven't had a dream of being naked.

My two-year-old niece loves this book. She loves the pictures "see that? see that?", and she likes the rhythm of the words. And she likes the idea that we have cake eeeeeeee-v'ry morning (even though we don't). I can hardly think of a better introduction to the world of dreamlike fantasy.
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on August 18, 2003
I got this book because I thought my 16-month-old was having nightmares and I'd read this was a good book to explain what dreams are to little children. I was in a big hurry when I bought it and didn't read it first. I'm glad I didn't, because I probably wouldn't have bought it. It is very strange - but it grows on you. At first, I really didn't like it at all - but my son just ADORES it! As soon as I get to the last page he is whining for me to start reading it all over again! Apparently something about it appeals to most kids because he just wants to hear it over and over again!
I think it's weird, but I understand it and respect it, and it really doesn't matter what I think about it - the fact that my son enjoys it so much is good enough for me. As for the nudity ..... BIG DEAL! Get over it!
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on May 15, 1999
This very short children's book is about a boy who dreams of cakes being prepared in a kitchen. Sendak successfully pictures the dreams of a small child and his flights of fancy in those dreams. Just what one would expect in a dream. The book was a 1971 Caldecott Honor book (i.e., a runner-up to the Medal winner) for best illustrations in a children's book. I think that the reviewer from Oct. 29, 1998, is reading too much into the story. The boy is perfectly safe. This is his dream. And, children often dream of themselves without clothing. There are no purient undertones here. If there were, this book would not have achieved all the claim it has over the years since it was first published.
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