Friday, September 30, 2011

Uncensored Librarians: In the Night Kitchen

Spoiler Alert! This book contains a penis.

I love Where the Wild Things Are. Love Chicken Soup with Rice. I just got a copy of Bumble Ardy, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to love it, too. I really love Maurice Sendack’s illustrations in Little Bear and Brundibar and especially in The Bat Poet (if you’ve never read this little gem that pairs Sendak’s art with a charming fable from Randal Jarrell about imagination and inspiration, you are in for a treat). All that being said, I can’t stand In the Night Kitchen.
The saying goes that we hate what we fear, and that may explain my strong feelings. I hate this book because I find it freakish and disturbing and terrifying--both the story and the drawings. Seriously. I am terrified of a picture book. But for the sake of this article and in the spirit of banned books week, I cracked it open today to revisit the horror. And I’m still scared.

I’m scared of the bakers who look like Oliver Hardy and bring to mind Shakespeare’s weird sisters. The fact that this freakish trio bake little Mickey into the cake freaks me out. I’m only mildly repulsed by the pictures of the kid wearing his cake batter pants and fashioning an airplane out of dough--seriously, how gross would cake batter pants be? I’m scared that he’s going to drown in the giant bottle of milk that he falls into. And the page with the three bakers singing a tune and strumming instruments, their noses red and bulbous? That page will show up in a nightmare soon, I have no doubt. Quite simply, I find this book disturbing.

Guess what doesn’t disturb me? The Penis. Yes, the little kid’s penis shows up exactly 3.5 times. That’s why this book has been challenged and/or banned. A penis. The irony of this struck me once when reading it to my kiddo while he was running around more than half naked himself. And guess what? He never even noticed little Mickey’s penis in the illustrations. I’m guessing most kid’s don’t notice it.

Apparently, plenty of adults have noticed, and taken offense, as this beloved children’s classic is one of the 15 Most Controversial Children’s Books and on the list of the most frequently banned books. But it’s made a lot of other lists, too. In addition to being named a Caldecott Honor Book, when In the Night Kitchen was released in 1970, it won honors from the New York Times, the American Library Association, and the Library of Congress.

Susan - Marketing


Gulcin of Olric said...

Hi!I really love this post! I was looking for some articles about Sendak and found your blog and i realy enjoy while reading this.Thanks for sharing,and i totally agree with you.

Anonymous said...

Childhood is often angry, scary, and disturbing. Many things about being a child are frightening and Sendak's work often reflects those fears - both known and unknown. In the Night Kitchen becomes less disturbing if we try to think about how fantastical, incomprehensible, and, yes, even menacing the world seems through the eyes of a child.

Anonymous said...

I miss chatting with you at the Carrboro Cybrary, Susan!
Anthony with the neck ;-)