Maurice Sendak is a poopyhead

A still image from the film Where the Wild Things Are. A boy in a monster costume is standing on a kitchen table yelling at his mother.

Or an ass. Take your pick.

Maurice Sendak is the author of Where the Wild Things Are, which as you know, is a movie in theatres right now. Some people say the film is too scary, like in this awesomely titled article: Where the wild things matured and children cry at theatre.

Now, I don’t begrudge the man giving his consent for his picture book for young children to be made into a movie primarily for nostalgic adults. But I do begrudge his knee-jerk response to parents who are saddened at yet another children’s movie not being appropriate for young children. Seriously, now that I have a movie night for my 5-year-old, we’re watching films that are often 30 to 40 years old.

Anyhow, Newsweek asked Sendak the following question:

“What do you say to parents who think the Wild Things film may be too scary?”


“I would tell them to go to hell. That’s a question I will not tolerate.”


“Because kids can handle it?”


“If they can’t handle it, go home. Or wet your pants. Do whatever you like. But it’s not a question that can be answered.”

Thanks Maurice, really. As a children’s book author, I can see you really care about kids.


20 Responses to “Maurice Sendak is a poopyhead”

  1. Jeanne says:

    I heard years ago that Maurice Sendak didn’t like kids today. I thought this was a pretty good interview:

    This argument reminds me a lot of the problems parents had with A Series of Unfortunate Events, where kids loved the books but parents thought they were too dark.

    I haven’t seen the movie, and probably won’t for awhile, but I remember the book scared me as a kid, and that it was great to talk through. The movie seems to have the same theme of the forgiveness of parents in the face of anything.

    October 16th, 2009 at 5:09 am

  2. Stephanie says:

    Okay, this wasn’t the most articulate way of saying it. But I do think kids are smarter and braver than we think. Some things traumatize parents more than they do the kids. Probably because we’ve lived and seen more. Kids are blank slates. They haven’t tested their emotional range like parents have.

    Each kid is different, so it isn’t Sendak’s place to say what will freak kids out and what wouldn’t. And he states that pretty clearly.

    October 16th, 2009 at 6:15 am

  3. My Boaz's Ruth says:

    It’s the WAY he said it that is angering parents, though. The same message could have been gotten across in much kinder ways.

    And yes, the way you say something does matter.

    October 16th, 2009 at 6:23 am

  4. Molly says:

    He apparently was on the Today show this morning (or some other morning program) and said that being gay ruined his life and that now he was just waiting to die.

    What a cheery message to young people!

    October 16th, 2009 at 6:45 am

  5. AJ says:

    Molly, that’s interesting. Sendak seems very unhappy. I wrote, then retracted, a bit about the first page of the Newsweek interview where Sendak says he and his siblings were read “horrible, horrible” (dark) stories by their parents and they loved them… but in the same breath he admits they grew up “very depressed.”

    re: Jeanne and Stephanie’s comments on kids being tougher than parents think… my daughter is not tough. The only film that hasn’t made her cry at some point was Mary Poppins. Milo & Otis was an especially terrible film… two animals repeatedly put into nonsensical dangerous situations for the benefit of the camera. We stopped watching. Now that I think about it, I don’t want my daughter to be tough if it means becoming desensitized to violence and bad behavior.

    October 16th, 2009 at 6:52 am

  6. Angelique says:

    I hated Milo and Otis. I always got too emotionally involved with the characters when I was little. E.T. was the worst.

    October 16th, 2009 at 9:23 am

  7. Jennifer says:

    I never liked his books until I was an adult. As a preschool teacher I don’t read his books in the classroom; especially this one. I have never found it appropriate for them. Now, the movie, I will go see as an adult because I like the book now and am curious to see how it is made but I most likely would not bring my children until I’ve seen it anyway (like any movie I would take them to see). I like to be prepared for what they will see so I won’t be surprised and will already be ready to respond to fears or even thoughts and ideas that may come from it.

    October 16th, 2009 at 10:34 am

  8. Diana (Ladybug Limited) says:

    I vote ass. Good grief. Thanks for the heads up — we won’t be seeing the movie…

    October 16th, 2009 at 12:38 pm

  9. Emily says:

    AJ, I agree about not exposing children to violent or scary movies. My 5-year old is very sensitive to TV and movies, and we are very careful with what she sees. Often times, Little House on the Prairie is even too scary for her. She does not like to see anything scary, and whenever someone is hurt she buries her face into me. We are very careful with what we let our girls watch. I’d rather they stay innocent and enjoy their childhood for as long as possible. There’s plenty of time for them to be exposed to the world. Right now they’re just enjoying being young. :-)

    October 16th, 2009 at 12:48 pm

  10. Tiffany says:

    I agree. My son is now 3.5, and quite an intrepid little soul- but movies and TV are just too scary. And it’s not him- look at what is considered G now and what was considered G when we were kids. Not even close. We’re starting to watch SOME of our Disney repertoire, but with the remote close at hand. And anything non-Disney is pretty much out. Thank goodness for Dinosaur Train and Word World on PBS. Oh, and I just saw Disney will be making another Pooh movie like the original one, using some of the original stories not yet used- hooray, a movie we can actually go see in the theater!!!! So far, they’re all too much.

    October 16th, 2009 at 1:57 pm

  11. Jeanne says:

    I’ve been trying to come up with a reason why I think these scary movies are important. I don’t believe in “toughening up” kids or forcing them to deal with tough/scary situations, but I do think that kids are often dealing with these situations, often silently because they know that adults shush when they walk into the room.

    I thought this was a fairly succinct argument of what I was trying to say “…because one of the reasons we tell and read and watch stories is because they give us a way to understand and conquer our fears.”

    October 17th, 2009 at 9:30 am

  12. Austin Goldin says:

    I have heard when the book came out parents felt that the story was too scary then as well. I think situations like this are perfect to engage in a dialog with your child(ren). Parents should be able to communicate with their kids about things that are scary. Life is scary. One should be able to address the things in life that aren’t shiny, fuzzy, fluffy, and soft, especially the young. They will be less likely to let those moments consume them and succumb to those unpredictable and innumerable forces. You would talk to your kids about drugs right? Crossing the street?

    October 17th, 2009 at 1:08 pm

  13. My Boaz's Ruth says:

    They have actually found that talking to your kids about strangers too young conveys an unhealthy sense of fear of others!

    Oh and Austin, when talking to my kids about scary subjects I would 1) NOT tell them to “Go to hell” — its the language that is completely unacceptable here. and 2) Tailor it to their level.

    There are videos I don’t watch myself because I can’t handle it, why would I force my kid to watch something they can’t handle???

    October 17th, 2009 at 6:10 pm

  14. Austin Goldin says:

    Nobody is suggesting the movie be mandatory viewing. If my daughter wanted to watch or better yet read something that may have tones that she may not understand, I would not refuse her the opportunity to learn or experience something. I take it as my responsibility to help her make sense of the world as best she can. She is not interested in themes too far beyond her age anyway, it’s just not intriguing to her.

    The abrasive comment by the author was directed at parents who would blame him for their children not being able to handle the film. I agree, it’s not an articulate way of handling the media or public but I can’t imagine his artful intent is to scare children. If it were, I do not think his book would have made such a mark.

    Besides, there’s nothing to fear but fear itself, right?!?

    October 17th, 2009 at 10:20 pm

  15. theblondeghost says:

    My husband has long been exposing our kid to movies I thought were MUCH too scary (like The Mummy, Mummy Returns, Hellboy, Lord of the Ring movies etc.).

    Our son is three 1/2 and enjoys playing scared, but if I act scared too, he quickly assures me “It okay. It just a movie Mom.” or “Don’t be scared. It not real.”

    I understand the concern of exposing kids to something we think is scary, (and there are some scenes we skip over) but some kids do very well with such exposure. It really depends on your child.

    Our son is still quite sensitive when it comes to real world things. If we scold him too harshly, or he hears mom and dad argue about something, he gets scared/upset. Our son is very well behaved, polite, and well adjusted, with a firm grasp of what is/isn’t real. That last part come from watching and talking about “scary” movies.

    That said, we won’t be going to the film in the movie theater, because they all turn the sound up WAY TOO LOUD and I don’t think that’s good for his hearing or mine.

    October 18th, 2009 at 9:04 am

  16. KB 111 says:

    Film and literature are very different media. BOOKS do (or at least can) whisk us away, and feel very real at times. But FILMS are sometimes too real to simply be discussed afterward, softening the intense feelings that may come up. Add in the intensity of the pumped up volume and enormous screen, and it’s a very intense situation. My eyes watered just watching the theatrical trailer for ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ — and no hormones are to blame; it was extraordinarily moving on its own, but in the theater, with the serious sound system and big screen, it made for a powerful viewing experience.

    In reference to his own childhood being spent “very depressed,” there may have consistently been dark topics (outside of ‘bedtime stories’ and the like) surrounding the very close at hand issue of the Holocaust, being the son of Jewish Polish immigrants…

    October 18th, 2009 at 11:18 pm

  17. Stephanie says:

    Like I said, every kid is different. Every parent is different. As parents, you have every right to say what your child will see and won’t see.

    Sendak said it himself, he’s not the person to ask. It’s not his job to tell you to see his movie. It’s up to the parent to decide whether or not your own child can handle it.

    October 19th, 2009 at 6:41 am

  18. KGS says:

    Sendak’s way of phrasing this response was very poorly chosen, but I can only imagine how frustrated he must be with this type of question by now. Some kids (and my daughter is one of them) are going to be unpleasantly scared by just about ANY movie, and it’s not the responsibility of the people who make the movies to protect those kids– it’s their parents’ job to find out enough about the movie to decide whether it’s appropriate in their situation.

    To me, none of Sendak’s books would be great candidates as movies good for very young kids. There are some scary things in pretty much all of them that are a lot easier to handle in a book-reading situation than they would be in movies. Even safe in my lap, my daughter banned “Where the Wild Things Are” from bedtime reading for about 6 months when she was 2.5-3, when I think she was realizing (on some level at least) that the monsters stood for dangerous things in the real world. A year later, she’s fascinated by them and their ambiguous relationship to Max, but definitely couldn’t handle them on film.

    October 19th, 2009 at 12:14 pm

  19. Allison says:

    While I think Sendak’s comments were very blunt and could have been worded better I also see why he might be frustrated with this question.

    For me it was pretty clear from the preview that this was not a movie for young children. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to see it because I am pretty sure it will make me bawl like a baby. I thought maybe pre-teen and older would be the target audience.

    My son (3) does love the book though and for a book with so few words it had very deep themes. For us this has been a wonderful teaching tool. My son seems to get the idea that he can choose to be a Wild Thing or a Boy but choosing to be a Wild Thing is lonely and means he won’t be able to do all the things little boys do. We have also had some interesting discussions about how we all have Wild Things inside us that we have to control. About when and what makes us turn into wild things, like frustration or anger, and what we can do to tame the wild thing.

    October 22nd, 2009 at 12:58 pm

  20. Lori says:

    My two cents, but it makes me think about how my friends, as parents, try not to overreact when their kids fall down. If the kid sees the parent not overreacting, the kid doesn’t overreact.

    Personally, I couldn’t watch “The X-Files” without every light in the house on, so creepy movies are out for me. But at some point, kids are going to have to be exposed to this type of film. Perhaps Austin’s suggestion that these scenes be jumping off points for discussion with the kids be taken to heart. I also like theblondeghost’s attitude. She knows what her kid can handle, so she monitors appropriately.

    Per Sendak’s response? Right on. The man’s 81 years old. He should neither curb nor provide answers for parents.

    A word of caution: be aware of what your kids are watching with friends as well. My sister-in-law was horrified to find out her nanny took my three-and-a-half-year-old nephew (along with the nanny’s two older sons) to see “Iron Man”. Now he’s forgone Dora the Explorer for Spider-Man.

    October 27th, 2009 at 12:52 am

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