Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Review: In The Night Kitchen-Maurice Sendak

Sendak gives more than a passing nod to Windsor McCay in this, the second book in his famous Wild Things trilogy. The first image on the opening page of this short but sweet tale is a heartfelt tribute to the familiar starting point of McCay's Little Nemo in Slumberland strip from the early 1900's (see below).

Rather than going with the usual picture book format here he has broken down the story into comic book panels which vary greatly in shape and size (although all are bigger than your average comic book panel). The only image that successfully escapes the rigid confines of the comics panel is a double page spread which perfectly follows on from a stuttered set of panels depicting Mickey's climb in the plane made out of dough, the succession of images occur in such a way, that when we are given the full view of the scene, it seems as if Mickey has literally broken the forth wall of the comics panel and come zooming out into the open.

The book tells the very simple story of Mickey who is rudely awakened in the night by the sound of The Night Kitchen. Falling into this kitchen (a beautifully coloured cityscape of kitchen utensils and condiments) he almost gets baked into a cake by three cheerful looking fat bakers, but escapes. Having ruined their cake he proceeds to help them make a new one before returning to bed. A pretty nonsense affair, but some of the best children's books are. My mum labelled this 'too weird' for my nephew (he is only two) so I staked a claim for it myself.

In comparison to Where The Wild Things Are Sendak's artwork is bolder and more cartoon like, the shading and colouring is less intense, and there is less of a feel of texture to the characters in this book. In other words the images are less like illustration and more a part of the story. Sendak is obviously a natural when it comes to the conventions of the humble comic book as his panels flow without the slightest hiccup, yet at the same time the wonderful over-sized lettering (especially when Mickey crows from on top of the milk bottle) remind us that this is indeed a children's book. The sing song rhythm of the words also mean that this will be perfect for reading aloud. A must have for children, or for your own inner child.
P.S There is an edition of this on the Internet that you can get which leaves out all of Sendak's colour work in order for your child to colour it in. This is the edition I intended to get for my nephew but because I bought it used, this wasn't the edition I got. D'oh.

P.S.S There is animated version of In The Night Kitchen as one of the DVD extras on the animated version of Where The Wild Things are. On of the animators responsible for this was none other than Gene Deitch, father of underground comix artist Kim Deitch famous for his work on Tom and Jerry amongst other things.

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