Friday, October 3, 2008

BB Review #3: In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak

I'm on a roll.

Okay. I hope that picture is small enough not to offend any of you. And if it's not, then it's time to get out your kindling and matches and join the others who have banned this book for its NUDITY!

Maurice Sendak, for anyone who slept through childhood, is the author of Where the Wild Things Are and illustrator for the Little Bear stories (some of my favorite childrens books EV-er). His book, In the Night Kitchen, has been officially banned in a number of states around the country due to "gratuitous" nudity of the little boy in the story who falls out of his clothes on the way to the night kitchen and is put into batter to bake. He pulls himself out, scolds the bakers, insists he is not the milk, and then helps them by pouring the real milk into the cake: "And that's why, thanks to Mickey, we have cake every morning."

The pictures are anatomically correct, in case you're wondering.

After my 3-year-old son was potty trained, I happily gave away our Once Upon a Potty book for boys out of pure relief that we were done with diapers. That book has anatomically correct illustrations also, by the way. But it's not banned anywhere as far as I can tell, probably because the nudity there is not "gratuitous." But if anyone has ever been around a toddler for more than 15 minutes, you know that for a child this age, clothing--not nudity--is gratuitous.

I read In the Night Kitchen twice in a row to my son this morning just to see if he noticed the five full frontal illustrations of Mickey and the several backside illustrations. Nope. He just loved the story, and I have an appointment with him at naptime to read it again.

Now whether he understood the story is a completely different issue. I'm not sure I understood it. But as an English major, I can bluff my way through a discussion and give you several different interpretations if you'd like. My favorite high school English teacher, on whom I had a monstrous crush, told me in 11th grade that what the author intends a story to be about is irrelevant. What we, the readers, get out of it is what matters.

So I could say this book is a children's version of Pink Floyd's The Wall. It's a bizarre sequence of events that makes sense only on drugs--or in a dream.

Or I could say it's a warning story of the dangers of baking in the nude (without an apron).

Or I could take Mickey's line--"I'm in the milk and the milk's in me"--and say this book is a vaguely veiled preschool lesson in existentialism.

Or I could say it's the story of a little boy who hears a sound in the kitchen and instead of being afraid, he turns the nightmare around to his advantage and becomes the hero, the one we must credit with the cakes we have for breakfast every morning.

And now I'm thinking about cake.

Over on, I found this recipe for Knock 'em Naked Cake.

And if you're naked and eating cake, you may as well try this one: Better than Sex.

But my favorite cake ever is right here. It's technically a steamed pudding and a tad labor intensive, but SO worth every second, every bite, and every calorie.

Steamed puddings make me think of home. My father's favorite was chocolate. This recipe has been in our family for generations and I'm sharing it with you now:

Steamed Chocolate Pudding:

3T cocoa
1C sugar
1T shortening
1C buttermilk
1t soda
scant t baking powder
1 1/2 c flour
pinch of salt
1 t vanilla

Steam for 1 1/2-2 hours. I use a special insert in my crockpot, but you can use a double boiler or a cake pan set in another pan filled halfway up with water, then bake it in the oven at 350. Not sure how long it would take that way, but significantly less than the crockpot.

Then for the hard sauce, which you can't have the pudding without!

1 box powdered sugar
1t vanilla
1t melted butter
2 lg. egg yolks (I don't know how to find your way around this one)

Eat, enjoy, and, for heaven's sake, go put some clothes on.


Tina said...

I haven't read "In the Night Kitchen" of all the books you've reviewed. I'll look for it at the HK library or bookstore.

I loved LBS as a kid because it was a greatly interesting story, no matter what color the characters were. The illustration of the tiger turning into a pool of butter was a memorable picture. Chocolate War I read and didn't love because it was a downer. LYF I cry at every time I read aloud, but agree it is not what you want for your old age. I just take it with a grain of salt that they have a lifelong appreciation for each other. However it's in PGH now, not a book I moved to HK.

Glad you're done w/diapers. Give your family a hello from ours.


Shankar said...

I agree with your teacher. Much like the sermons in stone and books in babbling brooks that Shakespeare refers to, how you interpret something is up to you. One Fast Sunday, a friend of mine bore testimony of something that occured to him while listening to the Tabernacle Choir. I bore similar testimony, only my insight came from--I kid you not--Aerosmith.

Bobbie said...

I *love* Aerosmith. I've been listening to "Dream On" several times a day for the last week. My inspiration rarely comes from the usual sources. Another moving favorite song for me: "By His Word" by The Andrews Sisters. Bluegrass spirituals get to me also.