My Favourite Banned/Challenged Book: In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
October 01, 2010
In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak has been one of my all-time favourite books EVER! It's one of the first books I ever remember actually owning, not just getting out of a library or borrowing from friends, and was one of the few childhood books I've kept into adulthood. The copy I have was given to me by a librarian friend of my mom (who is a retired school librarian herself but was teaching Jr. High at the time) who apparently was asked/told/forced to remove it from the library at Hawthorne Elementary School. My mom can't remember exactly how the book came into our possession; I vaguely remember a lady coming to the house and giving me the book, then sitting and chatting with my mom while I looked at it.
(Then again, that could just be another false memory, like the one I have of being 8 or 9 or 10 and peeking around the corner of the hallway one afternoon and seeing a man with light blue pants and white shoes at our front door, who wanted to come in our house, but my mom said no and eventually closed the door on him. This DID happen; that man DID come to our door and harass my mother, but apparently I wasn't there to witness it. She just told me the story so often (don't ever let a stranger in the house!!) and with such intensity, that I created a memory to go along with it. Or so they say in shrink school!)
Anyway, I wish I could remember what, if any, reaction I had to seeing a drawing of a naked boy (OMG!!!) in my book, but I can't. I may have giggled, pointed. I may have blushed. I may have not noticed, being so enthralled by the story and the beautiful illustrations. I might not have cared.
The basic story is a little boy named Mickey is sleeping in his bed one night when he is "awakened" by pounding downstairs. Suddenly he floats up in the air, loses his pajamas, and ends up floating into a bizarre night kitchen made from milk cartons, canned goods, and various kitchen utensils, where three big bakers (who all look like Oliver Hardy with Hitler mustaches) are mixing up batter to make cakes for the morning. Mickey falls in their batter and nearly ends up as part of the cake, but eventually escapes and, using his ingenuity, helps the bakers get milk for the cake batter. After his heroic adventures, as dawn is breaking, little naked Mickey returns to his bed (and p.j.s!) safe and sound.
It's a charming, clever, adorable story accompanied by beautiful illustrations. Okay, yeah, I guess I can see how somepeople might be upset by drawings of a naked little boy in a children's picture book. After all, Sendak did not just show Mickey's bare bottom, but had a couple pictures depicting full-frontal nudity as well. But, the nudity was part of the story and honestly, haven't we all had dreams where we're running around (or floating) buck-naked? Are our private parts covered, blurred or otherwise censored in our dreams?
You don't have to answer that one if you don't want to!
Anyway, the sight of a little boy's pee pee in a children's book freaked some folks out to the point where some librarians (or well-meaning library patrons/teachers/principals/parents, etc.) took to drawing pants, shorts or even diapers over Mickey's little boy bits, which I personally find hilarious! Also, I feel really thrilled to have a clean, undamaged original copy of the book in my possession! And despite winning a Caldecott in 1971 as well as several other awards and accolades, In the Night Kitchencontinues to be challenged and banned all because a little boy ends up all nekkid in his dream.
I hope everyone had an awesome Banned Books Week and took the opportunity to read a book that some people might consider in some way, shape or form to be inappropriate or dangerous.