Going Wild

By Phyl­lis Root and Jack­ie Brig­gs Martin

Who doesn’t go a lit­tle wild when spring final­ly arrives? And even though we set out to choose pairs of books to write about, this month we couldn’t resist a hat trick of three books. At the heart of each is not only wild­ness but also how those around us react when our wild natures leak out.

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by Mau­rice Sendak

At the cen­ter of the first two books is a yearn­ing to live in the world of one’s own choos­ing. In Where the Wild Things Are, the book against which we still mea­sure all oth­er pic­ture books, Max, sent sup­per­less to his room for wild behav­ior, con­jures up a for­est, a boat, and an ocean and sails away to where the wild things live. The wild things make him their king, and he declares a wild rum­pus — until he becomes lone­ly and wants to be “where some­one loved him best of all.” When Max sails back into his own room, his sup­per awaits him, still hot and proof that his moth­er does indeed love him. With Sendak’s clear con­ci­sion of lan­guage and syn­tax, we’ve gone on a wild jour­ney, com­plete with rum­pus, and returned to know we are loved. Best of all.

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by Peter Brown

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild’s epony­mous pro­tag­o­nist also yearns to live by his own rules. Even Brown’s art makes the case in the begin­ning that Mr. Tiger is a more col­or­ful char­ac­ter than the upright towns­peo­ple, shown in shades of brown and gray while Mr. Tiger him­self is orange down to his dia­logue bub­bles. Bored with being prop­er in a prop­er soci­ety, he walks on all fours, roars in pub­lic, and swims in a pub­lic foun­tain. When he emerge clothes-free, he has clear­ly gone too far, and the towns­peo­ple strong­ly sug­gest he take his wild self off to the wilder­ness, where he goes com­plete wild — until he, too, grows lone­ly. Return­ing to the town he dons a tee shirt and shorts that his friends pro­vide him and dis­cov­ers that the towns­peo­ple them­selves have changed. Some go on all fours, some walk upright, some still dress ele­gant­ly, some wear casu­al clothes. In this changed soci­ety (and changed, we infer, because of Mr. Tiger’s actions) “Mr. Tiger felt free to be him­self. And so did every­one else.”

by David Small
by David Small

Imo­gene in Imogene’s Antlers has wild­ness thrust upon her in the form of an enor­mous pair of antlers with which she awak­ens one Thurs­day. While the antlers com­pli­cate her morn­ing rou­tine (“Get­ting dressed was dif­fi­cult, and going through a door now took some think­ing”) Imo­gene seems cheer­i­ly accept­ing of the trans­for­ma­tion. Not so Imogene’s moth­er who faints when she sees her daughter’s new appendages. Imogene’s broth­er Nor­man takes the aca­d­e­m­ic approach and announces that Imo­gene has turned into a rare minia­ture elk. Their moth­er faints again. An attempt to hide the antlers under an enor­mous hat leads to still more faint­ing. Unlike Max’s moth­er, who loves her wild son best of all, or the towns­peo­ple who ulti­mate­ly accept Mr. Tiger for him­self, Imogene’s moth­er can­not cope. Luck­i­ly, the cook and kitchen maid admire Imogene’s antlers, deck her out with donuts for the birds, and look for­ward to dec­o­rat­ing her come Christ­mas. At the end of her event­ful day Imo­gene kiss­es her fam­i­ly and heads to bed. The next morn­ing her antlers have dis­ap­peared. As she peeks around the cor­ner into the kitchen, her moth­er is over­joyed that Imo­gene is back to nor­mal — until a smil­ing Imo­gene enters the room, her pea­cock tail spread behind her. We assume that faint­ing follows.

While Imo­gene doesn’t choose her changes and nev­er engages in any­thing wilder than slid­ing down the ban­is­ter, she copes admirably with the unpre­dictabil­i­ty that marks child­hood. At times we all might need to look for sup­port and love beyond the folks from whom we most expect it and remem­ber to love our own wild, clothes-free, or antlered selves.

Wild­ness, love, accep­tance. Who doesn’t want it all? And why not? What’s against it?

So go ahead.

Be a lit­tle wild.

Like char­ac­ters in these books, we promise we’ll still love you.


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Liza Ketchum
8 years ago

So what’s against it indeed? Won­der­ful post for a June morning.