When Where the Wild Things Are first came out, parents (and some librarians and reviewers) famously denounced it for being too scary for children. It took kids flocking to the book to prove that grown-ups were the real wimps—kids could handle way more darkness than adults thought.
It’s funny to think about that now, if you know about the rest of Sendak’s books. Many of them are so deliciously creepy that they make the Wild Things look downright cute.
So today, on Sendak’s birthday, we declare our love for Sendak’s darker moments with this list of five even creepier Sendak books, counting down to Most Morbid.
Higglety Pigglety Pop
We’ll admit Jennie the dog is pretty cute, so it seems (at first) like there’s no creepy factor in this book. But there’s a dark underbelly to Higglety Pigglety Pop. No, really! Jennie has to convince a baby with a freakishly adult-like face to eat, and if she fails, she faces death. From the lion who lives downstairs. There’s even a period of time where it seems like the lion eats the baby. It all works out in the end, but it’s a panicky moment.
In the Night Kitchen
This dream-like tale takes little boy Micky into an imaginary kitchen where oversized chefs insist on baking him into a pie. The chefs were meant to look like Oliver Hardy, but with their Hitler mustaches and downright insistence about putting a child in an oven, there are some definite Holocaust references. Which matches up with Sendak’s family history—much of his extended family died in concentration camps when he was a boy.
Bumble-Ardy’s parents were eaten when he was eight. And before that, they didn’t seem like nice pigs. They never gave Bumble-Ardy a birthday because they “frowned on fun.” So we’ve already got a creepy start.
Adopted by his Aunt Adeline, Bumble-Ardy finally gets a birthday when he turns nine. Adeline gives him a gift, but when she leaves, he invites “grubby swine” over--a kaleidoscope of uncanny illustrations. And if they’re not unsettling enough, Aunt Adeline later barges in on them and threatens to slice them into ham. A blubbering Bumble-Ardy apologizes, saying, “I promise, I swear, I’ll never turn ten.” Um...
Outside Over There
The fact that Outside Over There inspired the movie Labyrinth should give you a clue that it’s weird . . . in that good way. But imagine Labyrinth without goofy puppets or David Bowie. The only thing left is a really dark story about a baby getting stolen by goblins.
In Outside Over There, the goblins are little hooded figures with black voids where their faces should be. Like tiny Grim Reapers populating every. single. page. The main character steals her baby sister back in the end, but not before the goblins try to replace the baby with a terrifying imposter that has a FACE MADE OF ICE. We’re serious—this book would make a great scary movie.
We Are All In the Dumps With Jack and Guy
Where Outside Over There is creepy, We Are All In the Dumps With Jack and Guy is despairing. It’s a picture book about two homeless characters who, at first, brush off a baby that keeps asking “Help?” But when giant rats (not the cute kind) kidnap the baby (plus a bunch of kittens), Jack and Guy decide to try to save the baby. They do, and decide to “bring him up” at the end, though they are still homeless. It gets hopeful, but the background is always night.