~Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Title: In The Night Kitchen
Author and Illustrator: Maurice Sendak
If you do not know Maurice Sendak for this book I am going to review today, you certainly will recognize the book he is most famous for , "Where The Wild Things Are." This particular book is noteworthy also but for different reasons. It was first published in 1970 and became very popular and controversial amongst the reading masses. It received the Caldecott Honour Book Award in 1971.
The main character in the story is Mickey and he looks about three or four years old. He hears noises coming from the kitchen in the middle of the night and he yells ,"Quiet down there!" In a dream-like fashion he descends to the kitchen to find out who is making all the fuss. He tumbles out of his bed and floats downward passing the moon shining in through the window, the room where his mother is sleeping and then drifts by his father's room. On his way down his pajamas come off exposing his naked little body (buttocks and genitials) which leads to the controversy and uproar. Many people were shocked at the child nudity and also asserted that other sexual innuendos were happening in the picture book besides that. They pointed to the free-flowing milky fluids and the giant milk bottle which allegedly (to them) resembled a phallic symbol. The book still is stigmatized by these critics and in some places the book is banned. Now to the book....
Mickey, who is in bed, hears a commotion downstairs and gets up to shout "be quiet down there." He proceeds to fall out of his bed, out of his pajamas, floats past his sleeping parents, and right into the midst of the night kitchen where a lot of bustling is going on. He encounters three chef's (with Hilter- mustaches) busily cooking up a cake for morning. They pour Mickey right into their cake batter and start stirring him in. They pour him into a cake pan and put him in the oven to cook, but luckily Mickey escapes and falls right into the bread dough which is rising. He manages to create a bread-dough plane and and flies up and up to a huge bottle of milk. He grabs the bakers some milk for their cake creation. Mickey happily pours the much needed milk into the batter which satisfies the bakers. As his dream fast forwards, Mickey finds himself waking up in his own bed, in the morning, "cakefree and dried." We learn "that's why, thanks to Mickey, we have cake every morning."
About the author:
In an interview with NPR in 1986, Sendak said about the nudity issue:
Well, we live in a very strange society. I mean, I was outraged when that book came out and there was a such a hullabaloo over his genitals.I mean, I assumed everybody knew little boys had that and that this wasn’t a breakthrough. The fact that people considered that outrageous: incredible. I mean, you go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, you go to the Frick, you go to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and there’s a Christ child with his penis. It’s accepted in fine art, but somehow in books for children there’s a taboo.Well, the hell with that. I mean, I didn’t set out to cause a scandal. I set out to do a very particular work where he had to be naked in order to confront a particular dream he was in. You don’t go into a dream wearing Fruit of the Loom underwear or PJs. You go tutto. You go yourself, your being, and that’s why he was naked, and it was idiocy. It was incredible idiocy what went on over that book for many, many years about Mickey being naked.
Maurice Sendak, 1986