Books Your Kid Should Read

"I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library." - Jorge Luis Borges

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In The Night Kitchen

27 August 2008

In The Night Kitchen
by Maurice Sendak
Illus. Maurice Sendak

A young boy, perhaps three years old, is in bed one night when he hears loud noises downstairs. Falling from his bed and out of his clothes, he mysteriously ends up in a surreal kitchen environment, peopled by three large chefs who bear a striking resemblance to Oliver Hardy. The chefs try to bake the boy into their cake batter, apparently mistaking him for the milk. The boy escapes, creates a plane from bread dough, and flies off to a ginormous milk bottle to get the requisite fluid. He pours the milk into the batter; the bakers finish making the cake; and the boy mysteriously finds himself back in his bed, back in his pajamas, with only the lingering memory of his night's adventure.

If In The Night Kitchen sounds like an extremely weird book, that's because, um, IT IS. Weird and wonderful in that way that only Maurice Sendak can completely pull off. The vivid dreamlike illustrations fill the page, with the text appearing in almost comic-book form, as part of the image rather than separate from it. And kids just EAT IT UP. The book has a history of controversy because Mickey (the boy) is naked in large parts of the book, and sometimes (gasp!) you can actually see his penis. It's a completely innocent and childlike representation, but apparently some people can't get over it, because it's consistently in the top 50 most challenged books. If you're easily offended by accurate (if cartoonish) representations of three-year-old anatomy, then this book maybe isn't for you. But for the rest of us, it's a weird, wonderful trip to the land of dreams.