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In the Night Kitchen (Caldecott Collection) Paperback – January 18, 1996
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The story of Mickey's nighttime adventure in the bakers' kitchen is "a highly original dream fantasy [with] deliciously playful illustrations [and a] chantable, easily remembered text. Pure delight for young children."--"BL."
From the Back Cover
Notable Children's Books of 1940--1970 (ALA)
Best Books of 1970 (SLJ)
Outstanding Children's Books of 1970 (NYT)
Best Illustrated Children's Books of 1970 (NYT)
Children's Books of 1970 (Library of Congress)
Carey-Thomas Award 1971--Honor Citation
Brooklyn Art Books for Children 1973, 1975
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I would NOT recommend this book to any parent.
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.
However, I was disappointed when I received it. I love fantasy, but for a 3 - 5 year old to be reading and seeing pictures about a plot that is both weird and scary (being put into a batter to be cooked?!), I think is unnecessary. Explaining that this is Mikey's dream not helpful, since I think this would scare any toddler from letting themself fall asleep and risk seeing these crazy images!
The pictures are well drawn and interesting, but I do not like the storyline and find it frightening for a child to read.