Monday, 30 January 2012

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

After Alice in Wonderland, and before Harry Potter, there was Where the Wild Things Are. In only 339 words, Max goes on a fantastical journey when he is sent up to his bedroom for unruly behaviour. Max had been terrorising around the house in a full body wolf suit. He bangs nails into the walls and chases the dog down the stairs with a fork. When his mother calls him, ‘Wild Thing’, Max responds with, ‘I’ll eat you up (Sendak: 2006: p. 10).’ For that he is banished to his room without anything to eat.

As Max stalks and paces around, with the full moon framed in the window, his bedroom begins to transform into a thriving forest with tall trees and looping vines. The walls give way to the outer world and an ocean beckons. Climbing into a little boat, Max sets sail for the land where the wild things are. When he comes ashore he is mobbed by great hairy beasts with yellow eyes, but Max stares them down. He is fierce in his wolf suit. Frightened, the wild things accept Max as their king and the rumpus begins. In this faraway land, the rumpus doesn’t end until Max calls a halt. With his fury spent, Max feels very much alone and in want of love. Against the threats and entreaties of the wild things Max sets sail for home. After several years of travelling, Max is once again in his room with the full moon still shining in his window. There he finds his supper waiting,’and it was still hot (Sendak: 2006: p. 42).’

In a very few words, Sendak has created a popular children’s story that works on many levels. When it was first published the book was not popular with teachers and librarians until it became apparent that children loved reading it. Since then it has gone on to win the 1964 Caldecott Medal for the Most Distinguished Picture Book of the Year and it has sold nearly 20 million copies since 2008 according to its publisher, Harper Collins. In 2009, Where the Wild Things Are was made into a film by Spike Jonze.

The illustrations contribute a great deal to the book’s appeal. They appear to be pen and ink drawings with a watercolour wash, possibly heightened with gouache. Fine hatching contributes to the verdant backgrounds but ink is also a very effective medium to capture Max’s animated body language and impish expressions. Instead of smiling blandly, Max is mischievous. He frowns and smirks, he is gleeful and pensive. Following along with Max, children can learn to read his expressions and recognise his emotions.

On one level, the book is simply a tale of adventure and imagination but it also tells of a small boy overcoming primal fears. When he is chastised, Max is not abashed; instead he goes on an unforgettable adventure. With fearless determination he dominates a horde of monsters and decides for himself when his tantrum will begin and end. It is not too difficult to imagine a Freudian dimension to this tale, with Max confronting the monsters of his id.

At first I was puzzled when Max sent the monsters to bed without any supper following the rumpus, until I realised that Max had internalised his experience. The little wild wolf that went out in the moonlight returns by moonlight. Without relinquishing his animal nature, a smiling Max has developed a more appropriate appetite.

Felt rather than seen, Max’s mother is formidable. As an invisible presence, with the power to give and refuse food, the mother is a symbol of both love and survival. Mother as nurture and mother as nature. Despite his mother’s prodigious power, Max’s story is one of finding self control. Captured in these 339 words and sensitively rendered in drawings is a fantastic journey into the mind of a small boy.

The recurring image of the full moon gives the story a dreamlike feel and subtly invokes the archetype of man becoming wolf. It is an image that intimately links the story to the spirit of the times. The duality of human nature, its Darwinian roots in the animal kingdom and its strivings for society and civilisation, was a popular preoccupation on the 1960’s. Adapted from the 1928 novel by Herman Heese, Steppenwolfe, the film, was released in 1974 after 7 years in the making. It tells the story of one man’s turmoil as he struggles with his inner wolf. In 1966, the Troggs had a hit single with Wild Thing and the Sparrows became a worldwide phenomenon when they changed their name to Steppenwolf and released Born to be Wild in 1968.

Perhaps it is not surprising that children were the first to appreciate the book. Where the Wild Things Are exemplifies the spirit of showing not telling a story. Like Max, the reader is left to delve into a tale of imagination and adventure and personal growth, and reach their own conclusions. According to Michelle Smith, a researcher in literary studies at the University of Melbourne, ‘literature exists to expose us to different perspectives, to learn to challenge and critique what we think we know and to reflect on our own lives (18. 2. 2001: p. 13).’

By Lisa Roberts for Graeme Heald.

Sendak, M. 2006 Where the Wild Things Are. The Random House Limited China.
Smith, M. 18. 2.2011 Criticism of ‘dangerous’ school text ignores literature’s role in learning.’ The Age Limited Melbourne p. 13

Monday, 23 January 2012

Julian Assange : the unauthorised autobiography by Julian Assange

Julian Assange, for many is a breath of fresh air with a standard of journalism sadly missing in today’s world. The story behind Wikileaks, Assange and the team he leads is, in my opinion, a must read for anyone who is concerned about freedom of information and the ability of everyday people to make their own decisions based on facts that have up to now been withheld from the general public.

“It is unusual, to say the least, to publish a book against the will of its author. That’s especially true when the manuscript is a first draft by a ghost writer.
Some readers may feel that the decision by Test Publishing to publish this book requires an explanation.
Julian Assange: The Unauthorised Autobiography is a portrait of a man who polarises opinion but who has also changed the world. Whether you read this book as a ghosted memoir or as a ‘literary interpretation of a conversation’ (which is how Assange himself describes it), it may be the most insightful and intimate account of him that we will ever have.
The voice that winds its way through these pages is unmistakeable. We believe that this book is essential to any informed view of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. We invite you to read it and make up your own mind.”

I read this in a couple of days being enthralled by the story but also the easy way in which the narrative is written. Right from the first page I was hooked. The only downside was the abrupt ending since there is more to tell. Hopefully this will be added at a later time as the current political and legal scenario plays out.

Fully recommended for people who are interested in a real time narrative of events in our recent history.


Monday, 16 January 2012

New fiction titles for January

Beyond a misty shore Lyn Andrews
Finders Keepers Belinda Bauer
Comeback Peter Corris
Taken Robert Crais
Treasure of Khan Clive Cussler
Bloodstone Paul Doherty
Spirit bound Christine Feehan
Believing the lie Elizabeth George
Good bait John Harvey
A devil is waiting Jack Higgins
Down the darkest road Tami Hoag
As easy as murder Quintin Jardine
Copper Beach Jayne Ann Krentz
Nightmare Stephen Leather
Losing you Susan Lewis
How it all began Penelope Lively
Scholar L.E Modesitt
Breakdown Sara Paretsky
Private games James Patterson
Private #1 suspect James Patterson
Sleepwalker Karen Robards
Chris Ryan extreme: hard target Chris Ryan
Last voyage Jessica Stirling

Place FREE holds through our library catalogue or ask Library staff about these new titles.