Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are” might have found its place in readers’ hearts across the world, but it’s also been a teaching tool for professors.
Sendak died Tuesday at 83, but teachers still use his work in the classroom.
Debi Mink is an associate professor at Winthrop, teaching elementary math methods to students who one day will have their own classrooms. Her expertise is infusing children’s literature into the subject.
Mink began using “Where The Wild Things Are” in math workshops and putting it in a math context in 1993 – even though, admittedly, it’s not a “math book.”
“Where the Wild Things Are” tells the story of young Max. After an argument with his mother about his making mischief, he is sent to bed without supper. Suddenly, a wild forest appears in his imagination, and he travels to the land of the Wild Things.
Though he enjoys his time with the beasts, he becomes homesick and returns home to find supper waiting for him.
The book won the prestigious Caldecott Medial in 1964.
“We do try to use all good children's literature,” Mink said. “Maurice Sendak is one of the premier authors of this generation and future generations.”
Using the books, Mink’s students have written trivia games based on the book, connecting it with science and geography as well. One student made math flashcards, with Max on the back. Another student came up with math-related questions based on the book’s story and characters.
Using these books in the classroom helps her students connect with their potential future students, Mink said, because it is the kind of literature they’d have in those elementary classrooms.
“Max is a loveable character,” she said. “A lot of kids can relate to how they get kind of mad when they get sent to bed by their mothers. They have their own fantasies.
“When I go out into the schools in the area, it's one of their favorite books.”
When a movie adaption came out in 2009, teachers planned lessons around the book.
Such lessons “make the best children’s literature come to life for our students,” Mink said.
“His books will go on for a long time,” she said. “He lived a good life. He's inspired young authors to make a difference in children's lives.”
Terry Norton taught children’s literature for almost 30 years at Winthrop.
“I used (Sendak’s) books a lot in the class because he was so influential, especially in the mid-1960s, when ‘Where The Wild Things Are’ appeared,” he said. “That book really was so significant in changing the whole look of picture books for children.
“It really heralded what most critics would say today is lavish book illustrations in picture books.”
“Where the Wild Things Are” is also considered the first book written from the psychological perspective of a child in that the little boy in the story is really working out through his fantasy his frustration with his mother, Norton said.
Sendak also expertly interwove the “flight into fantasy” concept, in which a person enters a daydream/imagination but later returns to reality with something, he said.
One of Norton’s lessons involved Sendak’s book “We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy,” which blended two Mother Goose rhymes.
“He took those and made with illustrations an original story,” he said. “The book was really a savage attack on how society ignores those in poverty, especially children, and neglects them.”
Studying the books each year with new students showed Norton just how in-depth and well-thought-out the books could be.
“A lot of the students used to be just amazed,” he said. “It was like they had opened their eyes. They had looked at it, but never seen it.
“We would always see new things in these books; they were always so rich.”