October 23, 2009

Salute to Sendak - A Spooky Story

We finish up our week focusing on famed author/illustrator Maurice Sendak!

The Book - Outside Over There

This book horrified me. I borrowed it from the library months ago and read it to Little Page without perusing it first. She loved it, but I found it deeply disturbing and was worried it would cause my impressionable four year old to have nightmares. She didn't, thank goodness, and even conned her father into reading it to her again before I had a chance to return it to the library.

The story tells of Ida, a girl whose father is out to sea and mother is in the arbor leaving Ida to watch her baby sister. Ida ignores her sister who gets stolen by goblins to be their goblin bride. Realizing what happened, Ida goes after her sister, eventually tricking the goblins and rescuing the baby girl.

The writing is beautiful, simple and descriptive in true Sendak-fashion. Lines like these weave a picture in your mind and cast it like a net across your imagination:

Poor Ida, never knowing, hugged the changeling
and she murmured: "How I love you."
The ice thing only dripped and stared,
and Ida mad knew goblins had been there.
"They stole my sister away!" she cried,
"To be a nasty goblin's bride!"
Now Ida in a hurry
snatched her Mama's yellow rain cloak,
tucked her horn safe in pocket,
and made a serious mistake.
She climbed backwards out her window
into outside over there.

Instead of distracting from the rich language of the story, the illustrations enhance it. Just as Outside Over There is more somber than Wild Things, the pictures are more detailed and realistic. They are gorgeous, but also haunting and disturbing in their own way. The goblins are small hooded creatures with baby-fat arms and only darkness where the face should be. (They look to me like infant Ring Wraiths or Dementors.) Ida's baby sister is a cherublike little thing with rosy cheeks and a cry so real you want to reach through the page and rescue her yourself. The scenery is full of dark and light, flowers and stone.

Have I captured for you the complexity of this book? It is one of those stories which speaks to a child's primal fears and helps her overcome them with a brave protagonist and happy ending. As a mother, however, I want to protect my child from fear and found the story to be not only haunting but also very disquieting.

So what about you? Have you read this book yourself or to your children? What are your thoughts? Leave me a comment and let me know!

The Activity - Write a Letter to a Serviceman

One of the things that first caused me to pick up Outside Over There was the fact that Ida's father is out at sea. He writes to her at the end of the book, and you feel his father's love span the distance and embolden her spirit. Living in a navy town means that most of my friends are navy wives. They and their children routinely deal with six and seven month deployments.

You and your kids can encourage our heroes! Let your child write, dictate, and/or decorate a letter or card for a deployed member of the military. There are numerous ways to get involved. I'm going to talk with a few of my navy friends and ask what their favorite organization are, but in the meantime, here are a few sites I found through Google:
  • A Million Thanks - organizing cards and letters for military men and women
  • Soldiers Angels - join any number of teams to encourage and support servicemen
  • United Through Reading - provides books for deployed parents to read via DVD to their kids. My friend's husband regularly sent home videos of himself reading bedtime stories for his kids to watch during his six month deployment. They LOVED it!
Updated: My friends recommended two other sites.
  • Lets Say Thanks - allows you to send a free printed postcard to troops
  • Fabric Postcards - make a fabric postcard to send to soldiers in Iraq! There are pictures of some made by children that might inspire you.


  1. OH!! I can't stand this book either!! BUT, my Mother-in-law gave it to me so I can't get rid of it!! achkk!! She thought we'd like it b/c it reflected a man out at sea, as if we'd want to dwell on that fact of our lives. Anyway, the goblins are awful and I can't a story about children being taken in the first place ... and the idea that they'd get married or something and this little girl, the older sister is out looking for the baby while their mother is in a depressed coma missing the dad, disturbing!! I love the language and the pictures, but only read it if asked. The only happy thing I can get out of it is the strength of the older sister is inspiring and teaches independence and determination. yes, perfect for Halloween I guess, but otherwise, not fun. I agree with you.

  2. This book sound quite scary... But I wouldn't mind reading it.

    Thanks for exposing me to English's child literature, "Mama" Page!

    My first language is French. I read my baby French books, but I started buying English ones as well. (okay, there is ONE English library in my small town; it had TWO children books. Now it only has 1 left!) I bought Lullaby Under the moon. The book is round, with really nice realistic illustrations, about a little bunny that doesn't want to go to bed to play with his friend, but finally get to sleep earring his mother singing :)

    And I think that United Through Reading organization is a fantastic idea!


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