Banned Books Week: The Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak

Sendak-nightkitchenHardcover, 40 pages
Published January 18th 1996 by HarperCollins (first published January 1st 1970)

This tiny picturebook has received numerous awards. Among them:

  • 1971 Caldecott Medal Book
  • Notable Children’s Books of 1940—1970 (ALA)
  • Best Books of 1970 (SLJ)
  • Outstanding Children’s Books of 1970 (NYT)
  • Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 1970 (NYT)
  • Children’s Books of 1970 (Library of Congress)
  • Carey-Thomas Award 1971—Honor Citation
  • Brooklyn Art Books for Children 1973, 1975 
    (source)

It is also infamous as it has made ALA’s list of The Hundred Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000 and is one of The 15 Most Challenged Picture Books Ever. The picturebook is in part a homage to the creator of Little Nemo as Sendak says in the forward to Windsor McKay’s biography written by John Canemaker.

The book is about little Mickey who goes to bed and then dreams about falling off his bed and down to the Night Kitchen where he helps plump bakers bake morning cake for the next day’s breakfast. So what, you may ask, is so terribly scandalous and offensive about the book that it has some parents and other puritan folks rising up in great forces against it? Well. Look at this:

nk31

Mickey’s genitalia is somehow seen to be breaking all sorts of taboo and makes people uncomfortable. Also brought up by those protesting against the book are the so called phallic images of the bottle and…suspicious liquids such as the milk. Personally, I found this to be a fun read that held up to multiple readings. Mickey’s lack of clothing doesn’t seem to bother children but it did bother many adults who then found creative ways to make up for Mickey’s nudity. It would be interesting (and if anyone knows, please leave a comment) to see whether this book received the same treatment in other countries or was it just North America that raised a ruckus about it.

As for Sendak, Stephen Colbert asked him in an interview conducted just before his death, on the issue and in true Sendak style he replied:

Stephen Colbert: “This one gets banned all over the place. And you know why.”
Maurice Sendak: “He’s got a dick.”

SC: “Why are you printing a smutty book?”
MS: “Because he’s a boy.”
SC: “Yeah, yeah, but you don’t have to rub it in our face. Boys wear pants.”
MS: “Not when they’re dreaming. Have you never had a dream yourself where you were totally naked?”
SC: “No.”
MS: “Well I think you’re a man of little imagination.”

Source

Read this book if you haven’t already!