*Maurice Sendak wrote and
illustrated the children’s
book, “Where The Wild Things
Are”. It was originally
published by Harper & Row in
1963 and quickly gained
success. It 1964 “Where The
Wild Things Are” was awarded
the Caldecott Medal for its rich
illustrations and is well known
to many as a classic even today.
By: Holly Manns
According to our text, “Where the Wild Things Are” is widely credited for
starting the age of realism within children’s literature. The context deals with
strong realities such as misbehaving children and heated exchanges that can
occur inside the family dynamic. (Tunnell, p.49). However when analyzing
the illustrations of this now classic text in their own entity another rather
distinct artistic style emerges; surrealism.
Surrealism is defined as a skewed version of
reality. It varies from a realistic depiction of
everyday life in subtle differences the mind might
find in a dreamlike state. (Tunnel, 33). The
following illustrations display this artistic style
in several unique ways. In the uppermost picture
we notice a fairly realistic scene. The main
character, Max, is wearing a costume and
causing fairly normal little boy chaos in his
pursuit of the families dog. The second image is
far from realistic however. It displays imaginary
monsters with varying defining features dancing
with Max in the moonlight. The indicating factor
that makes this text surrealism is concealed in
the background of the first picture. There is a
small and almost hidden drawing of Max’s that
looks erringly similar to the monsters he
encounters so far away from home. Without the
illustrations this clue would have not been
presented and the conclusion that this adventure
was only a rather vivid figment of a little boy’s
imagination would have been hard to justify.
*Line can be a useful artistic element when used correctly to set a mood, advance a
story, or to draw the reader’s attention. Maurice Sendak manages to skillfully use line
in his text to achieve all of this and much more.
Lines are used in the first image to
direct the viewers eye. The curved
lines of the monster as well as the
slanted curve of the hill seem to
draw the viewers eye naturally to
Max in this scene.
In the second image we see the use of
lines to convey movement and
excitement. The curved flag seems to
be rippling in the wind. The bow of
the boat is at a angle suggesting
rapid movement. The sea is bursting
with small curved lines that suggest
rough waters. All of these minuet
details add danger and adventure to
*A unique aspect of “Where the Wild Things Are” is that
the story takes place in two different settings. The first that
we glimpse slightly at the beginning and the end of the text
is the boy’s home and the second of course being the home
of the wild things. The illustrations in the book cleverly
use shape to help bring these rather distinct places to life
for the reader.
This image depicts Max in his real home.
Angular shapes are often used ,as in this
image, to suggest human made objects.
This is seen in several places throughout
this image such as the tent, hanger, and
the stool. They are all harsh and
unyielding shapes compared to those
used in the rest of the text. However, they
also add a sense of reality to the setting.
These are all shapes we are accustomed
to seeing in our own every day life.
In contrast the second illustration portrays
many more curved shapes to suggest
something found in nature. The monsters
all have rounded forms. They have smooth
noses and their bodies are all lacking
distinctive definition. The abstract and
oblique shapes add a sense of fantasy to
the story as well as credibility to the
theory that the place Max visits is only his
imagination running wild.
*The use of color can change the meaning of even the most
meticulously detailed illustrations. They can be
manipulated into creating an impression of intense action
or overwhelming joy. Maurice Sendak was able to use the
adaptable nature of color to his advantage when
illustrating “Where the Wild Things Are”.
*The visual above showcases a perfect example of Maurice
Sendak’s technique with color. He created a rather gloomy
atmosphere by choosing muted hues of red, yellow, green, and
blue. The excitement of the wild things has reached a all time
low at this point in the text and loneness as set in for Max. The
lack of bright colors and almost monotone of dark values
reinforces this depressing feeling to the reader.
*Texture is defined as the tactical impression communicated
by an artist. (Tunnel, pg. 36). It can give images a three
dimensional quality such as in “Where the Wild Things
Are” that makes illustrations all the more real.
*The use of texture is very
apparent throughout “Where
the Wild Things Are”. It is
perhaps most prominent in the
almost life like fur of the
monsters that can be found in
the following images. The
illustrator strategically used a
cross hatching technique to
replicate a seemingly course
*A lot goes into creating a great and memorable children’s book.
Perhaps the most crucial of this is the art of composition.
Composition at its most basic is the unification of all of the
other elements in a text such as shape, texture, color, and so on.
By carefully considering these elements as well as their
arrangement on a page a author/illustrator can deliver their
story in the most effective fashion possible.
One of the most interesting aspects of composition that can be found in “Where
the Wild Things Are” is arguably the unique way Maurice Sendak has arranged
and sized his illustrations. Notice in the images above how the pictures start out
relatively small but quickly enlarge as the story progresses. This trend continues
on the next slide as well.
The pictures continue to expand until reaching a set point within the text. At that point a reversal
seems to occur and the illustrations begin to gradually become smaller in size. The purposeful
arrangement of illustrations in this order seems to correlate with Max’s emotions in addition to
his imagination. The initial enlargement symbolizes the depth of imagination Max experiences.
While he is at his home in the beginning of the story the pictures are relatively small in stature
because Max is still in the real world. Then as his adventure begins and grows the illustrations do
as well until the moment Max realizes he misses his home. The dwindling illustration size that
occurs at that moment represents the fading of Max’s imaginative world in pursuit of the real one
with his family who loves him best of all.