The Night Kitchen

22 May

Can we talk about In the Night Kitchen? When Maurice Sendak passed away a few weeks ago, we got a couple of his classic books – Wild Things and the Night Kitchen. And one reading of In the Night Kitchen was enough to hook baby, who made me read the thing half a dozen times between dinner time and bed time. It has garnered super-outsized interest from the little one.

This book is so weird. So. Weird. The illustrations are expressive and interesting, and the story is scary and exciting and fun. Basically, baby wakes up, hears a noise, shouts to keep it down, falls out of his clothes, gets baked into a cake, escapes, makes an airplane out of bread dough, flies to a giant milk bottle, pours milk down to giant bakers, and then falls back into his bed. There is, surreally enough, a short animated movie as well.

Here’s the thing: when you read Roald Dahl (James & the Giant Peach, Charlie & The Chocolate Factory), or Lemony Snicket (A Series of Unfortunate Events), or even someone like Kurt Vonnegut, you get why they’re fascinating. Dahl, and Snicket, take the kid’s point of view against crazy, often villainous adults. The language is often more adult than you might expect to find, the scenes are sometimes gruesome. Kids are treated with sharp edges, sometimes they fail, often they are made to experience danger as well as joy.

What I mean is, I could write a story ‘like’ Dahl or Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket’s human alter ego). They wouldn’t be as good, but I get the rules they follow, and rules they break. Mine would be a pale comparison, sure. Parents often say to their kids about me (in a tone that I never really like), ‘Oh, Uncle’s being silly‘. The difference between me and these authors is that I’m silly and they sell a bajillion books that are well-loved by children forever.

But I could not even write a Maurice Sendak story. They just don’t make any sense to me. Why do the bakers all look like Oliver Hardy from Laurel and Hardy? What the hell is with the milk? The stories are just crazy. It’s eminently clear Sendak has a route to children’s hearts. But I don’t understand the pattern of that route at all. It’s like he’s speaking in tongues, to an audience that somehow understands him, leaving other adults with fond memories and vague recollections of what actually happens in the stories. I find the whole thing both fascinating and utterly incomprehensible.

And in the meantime, Baby B wants more more more. Milk for the morning cake!


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