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An Unusual, but Enthralling Sendak Picture Book
on May 19, 2002
Sendak's work almost always takes a reader by surprise. His themes are not comfortable ones, particularly for parents. He deals with the internal desires of children, the kinds of things that can be interpreted as unacceptable and frightening. For instance, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, which has become a classic in children's literature is about a boy who acts out--who becomes a "wild thing" himself. His transformation back into a boy is a gradual and wonderful part of the picture book, but in no way tries to deny that the "wild thing" aspect exists.
Likewise, OUTSIDE, OVER THERE is a tale of siblings, jealousy and responsibility. The heroine is Ida, a young girl who's father is away and so Ida is left to watch her baby sister, a task she's not too fond of. Ida is much more caught up in her own world. Yet when her sister is kidnapped by goblins, Ida must go off on a magic adventure to rescue her. She's not wholly devoted to the quest at first--and nearly passes her sister right by when she becomes absorbed in the magic of the quest. In the end, she rescues her baby sister, destroys the goblins and returns home--this time firmly responsible for her sister and determined to be so until her father returns home. It is not a comfortable tale, but it is one that highlights feelings that young children may have and discusses them in a format they can identify with.
The language and pictures are beautiful and stunningly poetic, in typical Sendak style. But the story and the way its told can be frightening for some children; themes of kidnapping by goblins, the ice-baby left behind, and Ida's making the goblins dance themselves away, all conjure images that hit on some primal fears and discomforts. The author is not trying to make us comfortable, but that's what makes him such a good author. I suspect people will either love or dislike this book, I'm one who loves it but can equally understand why others might not. So, if you can, take a look at it prior to buying and certainly before you read it to younger children.
On a side note, I believe this story is the basis for the movie Labyrinth. This wonderful movie is a strong tribute to Sendak in so many little ways, but the overall premise of the movie is very similar--a girl's jealous of her new half-brother and wishes the goblins would come and take him away. They do, and she must deal with the goblin king and the challenge he sets before her in order to get her baby brother back. Fabulous movie--if you love the book, I bet you'll love the movie, or vice versa!
Happy reading! ^_^