Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Kids Book Review: Outside Over There

Outside Over There by Maurice Sendak

This is one of Maurice Sendak's most popular books, yet I didn't learn about it until I saw this interview with Maurice Sendak where he describes the inspiration for the story. Maybe this is because it and much of his work has been overshadowed by the fame of Where the Wild Things Are, which is a favorite book around here.

I became deeply intrigued by Sendak's work after reading a transcript of a talk he gave in the book Worlds of Childhood: The Art and Craft of Writing for Children edited by William Zenser. In his talk, Sendak addressed the nature of childhood in a refreshingly authentic way. Childhood encompasses the whole spectrum of the human experience, including fear and other "darker" experiences, even though as adults we want to make the world bright and shiny. I guess reading that really struck a chord with me, as they say.

While I do think it's important to bring a lot of light and love into our children's lives, trying to create the illusion that that's all there is to life is deceitful, not to mention exhausting to try to uphold. It made me recall my religious upbringing in the kind of social climate that folks refer to as "sheltered." While I wasn't really very sheltered on the spectrum of sheltering, I can still remember the distinct feeling that something a little phony was going on. Now, in my own parenting experiences, I can understand that desire to make it all rainbows all the time, I see that in my ideals of creating a Waldorf fantasy world to cocoon my children in. So Sendak's words were quite refreshing, in the interview above, Worlds of Childhood and in this Blank on Blank interview too, where Sendak addresses this very topic. "We want them to be happy," he says, but then admits "Childhood is a very tough time."

Outside Over There
is the story of a changeling story where the kidnapped baby is rescued from Goblins by a caring older sister. Changeling stories abound in the folklore of the British Isles, and have been a subject of intrigue for me for some time, but never before have I found one so accessible and beautifully illustrated to share with Chobie.

Perhaps my inner sunshine and rainbows mom cringes a little at the prospect of sharing this story with a preschooler since there is an undeniable dark feeling to it. But, there are several qualities to this book that make it feel appropriate given Chobie's own curiosities and understanding of the world. He has already been questioning me about death for some time, and has clearly displayed his instinctual understanding of the danger of becoming estranged from his parents. (This may be augmented by Bee's recent escape through the fence in the backyard and brief jaunt down the sidewalk).

In Outside Over There the sister is the hero of the book, which I think is helpful for Chobie to develop an identity of being a caretaker and protector of his younger brother (rather than a toy-hoarding bully). The fact that the goblins are portrayed as babies themselves, and that the baby is rescued in the end warm the story a bit making it a good read for a preschooler (or at least the right preschooler).

The other thing that I really love about this book is that it has nudity (babies) in it, which I think enforces the additude of comfort and body acceptance that we encourage in our family (as opposed to shaming and embarrassment).

Have you read anything great with your kids lately? Any kids books got you thinking or reflecting on your parenting? I'd love to hear about it in the comments! Feel free to share links too.

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