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Source: Philip Nel, 785-532-2165,
News release prepared by: Kristin Hodges, 785-532-6415,

Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2009


MANHATTAN -- While tales of monsters might typically frighten children, the story of a boy in a wolf suit among yellow-eyed creatures continues to be a classic children's book, now adapted into a movie.

Kansas State University's Philip Nel, children's literature expert and professor of English, said Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are" is a classic because it centers on children's basic needs and desires while also pushing the boundaries of the picture book.

Spike Jonze's adaptation of "Where the Wild Things Are" is being released in theaters in October. Nel said that although some film adaptations of children's stories have been dumbed down, he thinks the movie looks promising, judging by the trailers.

"From what I've seen, the new movie seems to have a rawness and emotional edge that's absent from many children's movies," he said. "It looks like a movie about childhood rather than a movie that panders to children."

"Where the Wild Things Are" begins with a boy named Max who, dressed in a wolf suit, is sent to bed without eating anything after acting rebellious. He sails to the land of the wild things but then later decides to return home, where he finds supper waiting. Nel said the story addresses children's basic needs and desires – the need to be independent and the need to be loved.

"To be a child is to be at the mercy of others, and that can be very frustrating," Nel said. "Max needs to express his independence and his anger, but he also needs to be loved. The book allows him to do both."

Nel said there were issues when the book first came out because some worried that the wild things would upset small children, give them nightmares or that children might emulate Max's rebellious behavior.

"However, the book did not frighten most children and went on to win a Caldecott Medal," Nel said. "It's no longer as controversial as it once was."

"Where the Wild Things Are" changed picture books because it was the first to carry part of its story with three wordless two-page spreads, which is where the wild rumpus scenes are depicted solely through illustrations, Nel said. As Max moves closer to the land of the wild things, the illustrations take up more space, and at the book's climax – the wild rumpus scene – words have disappeared. As Max returns home, illustrations take up less space, and text returns.

"Sendak's use of illustrations to convey this experience -- a journey to a land of wild things, imagination and free expression -- is very clever," Nel said. "The imagination and wildness gets associated with the visual, with an experience beyond words."

Not having seen the film, Nel doesn't know exactly how the filmmakers will translate this intense visual and emotional experience into a movie. But Nel said he's looking forward to meeting the wild things on the big screen.