“Where the Wild Things are” by Maurice Sendak is a popular and fascinating children’s book that has been around as long as I can remember. The story is about a wild little boy named Max who is naughty to his mother, and is sent to bed with no dinner as punishment. So, his room is transformed into a forest, and he is then carried off do a distant land – a land of “wild things.” He immediately puts these “wild things” in their place by telling them to be still, and is given the position of king of the wild things. He stays in this land for a little while, but later gets lonely and smells dinner from across the sea. So, he gives up on being king of the wild things and sails back home to his bedroom, where dinner is waiting for him.
The pages are filled with whimsical, illustrations that bring the children’s imaginations, along with our own, to life.
This book seems to embrace more modern themes in terms of raising children. Instead of the typical, cut and dry, “Be still and keep quiet” way of rearing children, it seems to embrace a more forgiving, free style that lets children explore and imagine. Instead of the typical punishment style that falls entirely on parents, the author seems to be saying “you must learn from your own mistakes”.
This view of childhood is, it seems, contrary to John Locke’s views.
In “Some thoughts concerning Education,” Locke gives a very black and white, instructional guide to how children should be raised. One of his pieces of advice, for instance, was for parents to keep their children away from the servants.
“Tis a hard matter wholly to prevent this mischief. You will have very good luck, if you never have a clownish or vicious servant, and if from them your children never get any infection: but yet as much must be done towards it as can be, and the children kept as much as may be in the company of their parents, and those to whose care they are committed. ” This structured, sheltered view seems to be a common theme during the enlightenment era.
Sendak, on the other hand, seems to have a more relaxed approach; an approach that says “Send the children out into the society. Let them wrestle with these things for a while and eventually, they’ll come back to their senses. They’ll leave the land of the wild things and come back to the comforts of home.
Contrary to Locke’s views, Blake seems to have ideas similar to those embraced by Sendak in “Wild Things.” His approach is more free spirited and understanding, more empathetic to the feelings of children. To Quote my favorite line in the poem “The Schoolboy,”
“How can the bird that is born for joy
Sit in a cage and sing?
How can a child, when fears annoy,
But droop his tender wing,
And forget his youthful spring?”
Strausburger comes from a more scientific point of view regarding children in the chapter of his book titled “Children and Adolescents.” In this chapter, he speaks of the influence of the media on today’s children. Though this piece doesn’t directly correlate with the views of Locke or Sendak,I would infer that that the author’s view on child rearing would align more closely with Blake’s and Sendak’s than Locke’s. As Strausburger argues, “Children are not entirely passive in the face of the mass media, nor are they extremely worldly and discriminating. The reality is probably somewhere in between.” So, as opposed to Locke’s view that essentially says parents can entirely mold how a child turns out, Strausburger argues that though we can influence children to a certain degree, the mass media will also have a huge effect on the child’s learning.
I personally love this book, and think it not only encourages children to be dreamers and explore and adventure, but also teaches a subtle moral lesson that is only learned with time: Family is one of the most important gifts that we are given, and sometimes we must experience for ourselves what it’s like to be without that love in order to return to it.
It’s one of those “You must know darkness to know light” types of things. You can’t entirely shelter a child and expect them to fit into a certain mold You have to them roam a little bit before you can expect them to understand where you’re coming from.