“My mother’s glamorous friend Ronnie gave her Where the Wild ThingsAre as a 40th birthday gift… it was 1978, and that Maurice Sendak classic was a perfectly sophisticated gift for a grown woman whose children were well past picture-book read-alouds.” M. Russo, The New York Times
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
Excerpt: In Praise of Maurice Sendak, by Maria Russo, The New York Times
“Where the Wild Things Are is the first in what Sendak called his trilogy, books published many years apart and linked not by shared characters or settings but by a deeper affinity of theme: How we can access an inner life to wrest ourselves out of our childhood families and face the scary larger world, thereby growing up. By now, I’ve read the books many times to my own children, astonished at how much is in them for my grown-up self — about that growing-up process, and about the times I grew up in, too.
Where the Wild Things Are is not the famous six-page wordless sequence in which Max and the Wild Things have a ‘wild rumpus’ — even though, yes, it’s an enduring reminder of the importance of letting loose now and then (surely that’s what Ronnie had in mind for my upstanding mom as she turned 40).
It is the exhilarating moment before that, when Max first escapes from his punishment. He’s been sent to his room without supper, you may recall, for nailing stuff to the walls, chasing the dog with a fork, and yelling ‘I’ll eat you up!’ at his mother when she calls him a ‘wild thing.’ Then it happens: His room turns into a nighttime forest, and ‘an ocean tumbled by with a private boat for Max and he sailed off through night and day…When Max gets back home he finds that ‘his supper was waiting for him’ in his room — ‘and it was still hot.’
The second in the trilogy, In the Night Kitchen published in 1970, overflows with food. No surprise: Eating is a physical experience we carry with us relatively unchanged from childhood to adulthood. Our little protagonist, Mickey, awakens to a ‘racket’ from downstairs, falls through the dark, out of his clothes, and ends up in the ‘night kitchen’ with bakers who stay up working so we can have cake in the morn. Why did Sendak depict Mickey naked, once he falls out of bed? Defending his choice against the inevitable dreary calls for censorship, Sendak spoke of ‘the dignity and truth’ of the human body.
Sendak’s book is seeded with deeper meanings, not just about ‘the dignity and truth of the human body’ but about his own homosexuality, and his Jewish historical consciousness. The name of his father, Philip, and a tribute to his partner, Eugene Glynn, are right there, on the can of ‘Philip’s Best Tomatoes’ and a building shaped like a milk carton that says ‘PURE’ on one side and ‘E. Glynn’ on the other. Also hidden in plain sight is the historical horror Sendak evokes in the gonzo plot line of a child trying to avoid being put in an oven. ‘Mickey Oven,’it says in red letters.
The bakers carry a container of salt with a Jewish star on it, and their caterpillar-like mustaches evoke Oliver Hardy’s, but also, when you look twice, Hitler’s. ‘The Holocaust has run like a river of blood through all my books,’ Sendak said once.
The third book in the trilogy, Outside Over There published in 1981, covers its darkness of theme with painterly art. In this book, Sendak is inviting us to grapple with adolescence and its definitive break with the securities of childhood. The protagonist is an 8 year-old who is charged with looking after her baby sister ‘when Papa was away at sea.’ Her mother can’t — because she’s paralyzed by grief and depression.
The baby gets stolen by goblins and when big sister brings the baby home, triumphant, she finds her mother reading a letter from Papa. He tells her to take care of the baby and ‘Mama’.
Perhaps this is Sendak’s central point in the trilogy: At some moment every child realizes that their parents not only can’t fight off the monsters — they don’t even notice them.”
NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.
Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and improving oral skills. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
Stimulating background knowledge: Brainstorming
Directions: Place students in groups to brainstorm what they already know about the author Maurice Sendak and his stories. Next, have students look at the pictures in the text and generate ideas or words that may be connected to the article. Regroup as a class and list these ideas on the board. Students can use a brainstorming chart for assistance.
II. While Reading Activities
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.
- My mother’s glamorous friend Ronnie gave her a book.
- The book was a sophisticated gift for a grown woman.
- Sendak called his trilogy books important.
- The book is an enduring reminder of the importance of letting loose now and then.
- When Max first escapes it is an exhilarating moment.
- Mickey plunges into an enormous vat of batter, and is almost baked.
- Fortunately, he extricates himself, fashioning the dough around his body into a plane.
- The bakers carry a container of salt with a Jewish star on it.
- Sendak is inviting us to grapple with adolescence and its break with the securities of childhood.
- Yet the book is not offering some idealized vision of safe, genteel life.
Grammar Focus: Structure and Usage
Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical error. Students are to identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.
- The images look like they was born as ads.
- Sendak’s book is seeded with deeper meanings.
- The name of his father is included on the page.
- He’s was sent to his room without supper.
- His room turns into a nighttime forest.
- Max sailed off through night.
- Perhaps this is Sendak’s central point.
- She look paralyzed by grief and depression.
- The name of his father, Philip is in the book.
Directions: Review the following statements from the reading. If a statement is true they mark it T. If the statement is not applicable, they mark it NA. If the statement is false they mark it F and provide the correct answer.
- Dr. Seuss once said, ‘I have to reach and keep hold of the child in me.’
- Where the Wild Things Are is the first in what Sendak called his trilogy.
- In the book Max’s room turns into a circus.
- When Max gets back home he finds his supper was waiting for him.
- The third story in the trilogy, was In the Night Kitchen.
- The protagonist in this story is Mickey.
- The little boy falls into a night kitchen naked.
- There is not much symbolism in The Night Kitchen.
- The third book is entitled Outside Over There.
- The story is about a little girl who takes care of her younger sister.
Post Reading Exercises
Letters to the author
Directions: Place students in groups and have each group list 3questions that they would like to ask Maurice Sendak. Have groups exchange questions. Each group tries to answer the questions listed. All responses are shared as a class.
1-Minute Free Writing Exercise
Directions: Allow students 1 minute to write down one new idea they’ve learned from the reading. Ask them to write down one thing they did not understand in the reading.Review the responses as a class.