Skip to 0 minutes and 3 secondsDid you answer ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ to the previous question? Or ‘The Tiger who Came to Tea’? Something that you read as a child, or something that you read – or are reading – to your children? Whatever it was, I’m willing to bet it had emotional resonance for you. For many people, picturebooks are a treasured thing – of childhood, of the past. Just seeing the cover of a beloved picturebook can trigger nostalgia. But do you really remember them well? Let’s have a look. Did you ever notice the way in which the pictures in Where the Wild Things Are gradually grow until they take up the whole doublespread?

Skip to 0 minutes and 45 secondsThe more Max’s fantasies take over, the more the visual material nibbles at the space that was originally only the text’s. The Wild Rumpus, central to the picturebook, is entirely ‘silent’ – by silent we mean wordless, even though of course we can almost hear it in our heads, can’t we? This is the kind of decision that’s made routinely by picturebook artists – they need to think carefully about the balance of visual and textual material. They also think of details that might unsettle the meaning. Look at this monster, already drawn up there as Max makes mischief of one kind and another. Does that mean that Sendak’s picturebook is just about a little boy’s imaginative dream? But perhaps not.

Skip to 1 minute and 28 secondsDid you ever notice that the moon changes throughout? Surely the moon should stay the same, if it was all just a dream… Many picturebook authors love those ambiguities – they love unsettling, by little touches, often in the visual part of the book, the clear-cut meanings that the texts appear to offer. And, in so doing, playing with our interpretations of the stories.

A first glance at picturebooks

What do you think happened to Max?

What other features of Where the Wild Things Are - or other beloved picturebooks - did it take you a while to notice?

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This video is from the free online course:

Pictures of Youth: An Introduction to Children’s Visual Culture

University of York