The publication recently of Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Childrens literature as an Adult, (Simon & Schuster) by Bruce Handy, undoubtedly provokes in parents memories of their own favorites as children as well as those they have enjoyed or not enjoyed reading to their children. Childrens read it again is sometimes daunting the 10th or 20th time around no matter how much you appreciate the book as an adult.
One of my own strongest memories is that of The Little Engine That Could, the theme sentence, I think I can, I think I can, inspiring. On the other hand, many books for children seem as though they would be frightening, with violence and monsters. Yet children like them.
The psychologist, Bruno Bettelheim, writes about that in his book, The Uses of Enchantment, in which he points out that fairy tales help children work through real life problems such as separation anxiety and sibling rivalry. The extreme violence and ugly emotions in such stories can serve to distance what may be going on in a childs mind anyway. A childs fears and feelings are expressed in stories that are not real, and can give voice to those fears and feelings in ways that are safe.
Perhaps the writer for whom those ideas most resonated was Maurice Sendak. Where the Wild Things Are, a story about a young boy who dressing in his wolf costume, wreaks such havoc through his household that he is sent to bed without his supper. His bedroom undergoes a mysterious transformation into a jungle environment, and he winds up sailing to an island inhabited by malicious beasts known as the Wild Things. After successfully intimidating the creatures, Max is hailed as the king of the Wild Things. However, he starts to feel lonely and decides to return home. Upon returning to his bedroom, Max discovers a hot supper waiting for him.
Young children are plagued by the wild things inside them like no self-control,…