Friday, October 5, 2012

Book #279: In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak

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One night little Mickey falls asleep and into a fantastical dream. He falls out of bed, out of his clothes, through the house and into the night kitchen. There he finds three musical bakers who think Mickey is milk and try to stir and make, scrape and bake him into a delicious Mickey-cake to eat for breakfast in the morn. Fortunately, Mickey escapes becoming a cake and makes an airplane out of bread dough instead. Flying in his doughy contraption he is able to retrieve milk from a giant milk bottle. The bakers put the real milk into the cake as Mickey falls back into his bed. “And that’s why, thanks to Mickey, we have cake every morning.”

The story of this Caldecott Honor book is rather bizarre (would you really expect anything else from the author of Where The Wild Things Are?) and the idea of baking a child in a cake is a little scary, however the atmosphere of the book has such a light hearted feeling that it seems okay. The almost-rhyming text is brief and jaunty. The baker’s break into chanting songs and Mickey is a confident and spry little guy. The illustrations of the nocturnal kitchen are whimsical. The background is full of skyscrapers made of milk cartons, salt shakers, and canned foods. The bakers remind me of Oliver Hardy of Laurel and Hardy fame. Censors have complained about the pages that show little Mickey in his birthday suit (see below), but most kids at 4 or 5 years old would rather run around without clothes on, so this never struck me as offensive. 

If you don't have access to the book, check out the 1987animated short narrated by Peter Schickele of PDQ Bach fame.

Use this for a pajama, bedtime or dream themed storytime. Try pairing it with Pajama Pirates, Maybe a Bear Ate It or While Mama Had a Quick Little Chat. Ask kids to talk, write, or illustrate something they have dreamed about recently.

Bring in edible dough for kids to play with as Mickey does in the book. If you have access to an oven, bring in bread dough and have kids create their own baked masterpieces. Make sure to check for allergies. I also think this book is the perfect excuse for eating cake for breakfast. 

You can also read this book as part of a storytime on banned and challenged books, very appropriately since we are just at the end of Banned Books Week (Sept 30-Oct 6). This book has been challenged and banned frequently due to little Mickey’s nudity, which some believe to be sexually explicit, and for supposed offensive language. Check out the video reading I did of this book for the Banned Books Week Virtual Read-Out.

The list of challenged and banned picture books is longer than one would think and includes: A Light in the Attic, And Tango Makes Three, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, and Green Eggs and Ham.  And that's just the tip of the iceberg!

What's your favorite picture book? Has it been banned or challenged? 


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