Banned Books Week: Review of “In The Night Kitchen” by Maurice Sendak

Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event sponsored by the American Library Association (ALA) to celebrate the freedom to read. During this week, attention is drawn to actual or attempted bannings of books across the U.S. As the ALA website notes:

“…librarians, teachers, and booksellers across the country … use Banned Books Week each year to teach the importance of our First Amendment rights and the power of literature, and to draw attention to the danger that exists when restraints are imposed on the availability of information in a free society.”

According to the American Library Association’s List of the Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books from 2000-2009 Maurice Sendak’s book for children, In the Night Kitchen, is Number 24.

Mickey is a toddler who dreams of floating out of his pajamas, “past the moon & his mama & papa sleeping tight” and into a bowl of batter in the night kitchen. This is where, we learn, bakers bake until dawn “so we can have cake in the morn.” The bakers don’t seem to mind they are now baking up a “Mickey cake,” but suddenly Mickey pokes through the batter and jumps out and into the bread dough. There, he pounds the dough until it turns into an airplane: “Then Mickey in dough was just on his way.” He flies into a jug of milk, then slides down the side, and gets back into bed all “cakefree and dried.” “And that’s why,” Sendak concludes, “thanks to Mickey, we have cake every morning.”

This book has horrified people presumably because of the nudity of this little boy. One suspects, however, that the young listeners to this book (most of whom would be read to, rather than being readers of), would not see the pictures as provocative. Personally, I find the artwork gloriously colorful and ebulliently fantastical. I love this book.

In The Art of Maurice Sendak, the author discusses all his childhood impressions that made their way into the creation of In the Night Kitchen. Sendak has reported that there are even intimations of the Holocaust, from the baker sporting a Hitler moustache, to the attempt by the bakers to put the little boy into the oven.

But I find it doesn’t matter much to know the background of the pictures. One can approach the book in innocence and still fall in love with the main character Mickey and the packed, endlessly fascinating artwork: an art, Sendak says, that “encompasses the Empire State Building, syncopated Disney cartoons, and aluminum-clad, comic-book heroes.”

The story itself is inspirational and happy: Mickey dreams of peril and a daring self-rescue in a nighttime abandoned bakery. He wakes up safe and happy the next morning, feeling more powerful and satisfied than before.

Evaluation: A rich, satisfying treat that has less calories than one from a real bakery, and will last you a lifetime, because it is enchanting for all ages.

Rating: 5/5

Note: This book has won a number of awards, which are listed here.

Published by Harper & Row, 1970, and reprinted many times thereafter.

You can watch President Obama reading this book to kids thanks to YouTube:


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35 Responses to Banned Books Week: Review of “In The Night Kitchen” by Maurice Sendak

  1. Nymeth says:

    You know, I haven’t read any Sendak beyond Where The Wild Things Are. It sounds like I really need to change that.

  2. I actually think that one picture of the man with the mustache looks like Hardy from Laurel and Hardy. It might be because it’s super-early for me right now…

    I’ve not heard of this book before, looks like I’m going to have to read it now. 🙂

  3. Louise says:

    I read this a few years ago. I didn’t like it as much as Where the Wild Things Are. The illustrations are very clever though, I do see that. Glad you enjoyed it.

  4. I just have to think that if people are reading children’s books, that they have seen naked kids before…primarily their own!

  5. Trisha says:

    We are so ridiculous about being naked. The cultural shame over the body is self-defeating and, for lack of a better word, stupid. TV has trained us to believe everyone is a pedophile. Sad. Looks like a great book!

  6. Pingback: Morning Meanderings… Banned Books Week Kick Off « Book Journey

  7. Amy says:

    This is such a cute, funny book that I think celebrates a child’s imagination. And the artwork is fantastic.

    It horrifying that adults want this book banned because of an animated child’s nude body…do people pay serious attention to what they’re thinking and/or saying? They should be locked in a loony bin.

    I won’t even touch the Hitler or Nazi intimations. This kind of thinking is so irritating!

  8. Great review Jill, I posted about this one last year during Banned Books week. A child probably would not even care about the pictures, it is the adults who look at a picture of a naked (cartoon) child and think… oh thats bad….

    I enjoyed this one too… it was a cute story and I agree with Natalie…. that is soooo Hardy from Laurel and Hardy! 🙂

  9. Aarti says:

    Ooh, this sounds fabulous! I think that banning a book because of a naked baby is stupid. HELLO, have you ever seen public art?! Lots of nudity there.

    I have never read anything by Sendak, but the pictures you showcase above are stunning and so fun- I’ll find him!

  10. sandynawrot says:

    Oh for Pete’s sake! It never fails to amaze me when I hear the things that people get upset over. It’s just a little boy! And such a precious story. I love the illustrations too. This is a great example of why banned books are sometimes the best.

  11. totally thinking i want to read that to my toddlers at work, they would love it!

  12. Vasilly says:

    It really amazed me that this is a banned book. The Night Kitchen is such an interesting and unique work of art. Great review.

  13. Lisa says:

    I have 2 friends who are having babies this year and I appreciate the reminder – I’m going to get this for both of them!

  14. zibilee says:

    I knew this book was banned, but had never actually known very much about it. What I have seen here makes me think that some very small minded people have too much time on their hands. How can one fail to be enchanted by this story, and it’s wonderful illustrations? I am so glad that you posted this today, and shared this wonderful book with us. I need to see this one in person. Fantastic review!

  15. Belle Wong says:

    This one has great memories for me – I read it often to both Sean and Hayley when they were little. Haven’t read it to Dylan yet, because we must have given away our copy 😦 I really should get it out from the library and share it with him. I think he’d really enjoy it!

  16. celawerd says:

    I was unfamiliar with this. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  17. Athira says:

    I think we sometimes approach books from the adult perspective and cloud our assessments with all our prejudices. Like you said, I doubt any of this will bother the young readers of the book. And it sounds like a fun read for all age groups.

  18. I have to admit, when I was a kid the illustrations of the bakers freaked me out- and I still don’t care for them as an adult. But I never equated them with Hitler or the Holacaust! Nor do I believe that it should be banned for its illustrations, any of them. They just aren’t my style. As a kid, I think they reminded me of the Swedish Chef from the Muppets, who freaked me out too. Not sure why lol!

    Great review!

  19. Staci says:

    Love it!! People have their undies all in a knot over the dumbest things!!

  20. Alyce says:

    I haven’t heard of this book before, but I thought the idea of baking the kid in the batter was more upsetting than anything else. I’m sure I would have felt that way as a kid too.

  21. BermudaOnion says:

    You’ve got to be kidding! People object to a naked baby? I’m sure kids don’t even notice it.

  22. Julie P. says:

    I was going to say, “Seriously!” This looks like a wonderful kids’ book. Thanks for sharing.

  23. Barbara says:

    Adults who want to ban books like this charming Maurice Sendak one need to get their heads examined. It’s their own dirty minds, not the innocent minds of children, that is the problem. I’m with Alyce. If I had seen this book when I was a child, I would have been upset about him being baked in the cake.

  24. Trish says:

    Well I’m glad you brought this book to my attention! I actually haven’t heard of it but have been on the lookout for books to read to Elle (we’re getting tired of Goodnight Moon). And don’t kids love to be naked? I know that my nieces and nephews do. Pshaw.

  25. Margot says:

    My kids and I loved this book. It never occurred to me – or them – to think about the naked little boy. It just seems part of the story. If you’re being blown through the bread dough, of course you’re going to lose your clothes. Some people are just so touchy.

  26. stacybuckeye says:

    I feel like I should buy every children’s book on this list for Gage!

  27. ok, this looks like a very cute book…and oddly ‘banned’ one…but I will save you from my yearly rant about the whole ‘banned’ book issue

  28. Jenners says:

    I’d heard of this but never read it. It look delightful. And, of course, a bunch of people had to go and get all worked up over it.

  29. Serena says:

    Those illustrations are fantastic.

  30. Chris says:

    I didn’t know about this one, either. I’ll have to get it for my niece.

  31. This was one of my favorite childhood books…I had forgotten what it was called – great review!

  32. Vicki says:

    I don’t think the little boys and girls reading this would even think twice about the boy being naked unless their parents/family already instilled in them that it was wrong. When you’re trying to change a diaper or give them a bath, most little kids have taken off running through the house before,,,many times, and they don’t think about “being naked”.

  33. janice says:

    I loved where the Wild Things are though its annoying how it was originally despised for its “rage” or that now idiot college professors who have beyonce courses read “postcolonial imagery” into it when apparently sendak himself said his weird looking relatives inspired the wild things. Look, I’ve no reason to believe Sendak is a perv but I found this book perverse and I think it’s subconsciously perverse at best, there’s an odd fixation on the willie and dangling it doesn’t add to the story, and wouldn’t it have made more sense if he took his clothes off once IN the batter. And there are three dudes with the naked kid, weird. AS was the dry line at the end. I don’t want this in the library. If people want to buy it at barnes and nobles great but I thought it was rather revolting for a kids book and a big departure from where the wild things are

  34. Dorothy Harvey says:

    I bought this book from a childrens book club because I love all of Sendak’s work. When I received it and read it, I realized its potential for bringing me grief if I read it to my primary students, so I took it home and read it to my nephews. I have no nieces but I would have read it to them if I had. It is a great read aloud book. If you are offended by baby penises, skip this one; there are many more delightful Sendak books. I guess I believe parents have a right to decide what is appropriate for their child and wasn’t going to the trouble to preview it with parents and get signed consents.

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