7 Best Maurice Sendak Books You've Probably Never Heard Of

Tess Gionet
·4 min read

Where the Wild Things Are,Fatherly Sendak books for your kids or just for you, it doesn’t matter; just go get them.

Outside Over There, 1981

If you loved Jim Hensons’ movie from the late eighties, Labyrinth, you have Sendak to thank. Outside Over There is basically just the plot of the Labyrinth, sans Bowie in tight pants. Rumor has it Sendak wasn’t super thrilled that his long-time buddy Henson kind of stole his story, and even threatened legal action as Labyrinth was in production. Henson changed the name of the creepy red and orange creatures who can exchange heads from “wild things” to “fireys”, and begrudgingly thanked Sendak in the credits. Long story short, Outside Over There is fantastic, it’s Sendak’s favorite book he ever made, and you should probably go read it and then watch the Labyrinth to compare and contrast.

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Little Bear 1957-1968, Written by Else Holmelund Minaik

Sendak paired with writer Else Holmelund Minarik to illustrate these five short Little Bear books: Little Bear, Father Comes Home, Little Bear’s Friend, Little Bear’s Visit, and A Kiss for Little Bear. The Little Bear series is a tamer beast than Sendak’s usual works, both in the simplicity of Minarik’s stories and in the sweetness of Sendak’s illustrations. Even so, these books are quintessential childhood material, and especially wonderful for little kids stringing together their first words.

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Kenny's Window, 1956

A little boy named Kenny has a dream about a beautiful tree with the sun on one side, the moon on another. He wakes up and tries to get back into the dream, wishing to visit this place again. A rooster gives him seven riddles he needs to answer in order to do so. This is Sendak’s first book, published when he was only 28. While his artistic style is more simplified than in his later works, and his writing is a little more round-around (that freaking rooster needs to edit down his riddles to like, three) Kenny's Window is absolutely worth your time. This book is full of philosophical gems and trippy questions that get you thinking about your life in all the right ways, like “do you always want what you think you want?” Plus, the ending will give you goosebumps.

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The Animal Family 1965, Written by Randall Jarrell

The Animal Family was written by esteemed poet, author, and feared literary critic Randall Jarrel, and lovingly “decorated” by Sendak. Together, they made a book that feels like coming home after a long time away. The Animal Family is about a hunter who lives a lonely but peaceful life in a cabin in the woods on the edge of the sea. He’s visited by a mermaid, who decides to live with him in the cabin. The hunter finds (steals? this part’s kind of creepy) other animals and a little boy and together with the mermaid, they create a makeshift family. If you have ever wished to be part of someone else’s family, or to live in a little cabin in the woods on the edge of the sea, this book’s for you.

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In the Night Kitchen, 1970

A young boy named Mickey dreams of a strange world where milk jugs and egg beaters replace skyscrapers, and three jolly bakers follow him around as he helps make a cake for the morning. Don’t overthink this one; sure, there are deep Holocaust themes if you want to look closer (the bakers have little Hitler mustaches and Mickey is almost baked alive in the oven. Most of Sendak's extended family died in concentration camps.) But you and your kiddo can totally enjoy Night Kitchen simply for the crazy illustrations and strangely addicting storyline. And, please, don’t be like the American Library Association and freak out that Mickey’s naked on some pages. If you don’t make a big deal out of it, your kid won’t either.

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Chicken Soup with Rice: A Book of Months, 1962

First, go make a big batch of chicken soup with rice. Then, read this book while eating chicken soup with rice. Otherwise you’re just going to dream about it all night long and end up in an In The Night Kitchen-esque scenario. This short Maurice Sendak book is great for helping little kids learn their months and for inducing nostalgia in grownups. It has easy-peasy rhymes and ridiculously cute illustrations and, seriously, go make chicken soup with rice before reading this.

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Higglety Pigglety Pop Or There Must Be More to Life, 1967

What kid (or, let’s be honest, parent) hasn’t wanted to run away from time to time? Higgelty-Piggelty Pop! tells the story of Jennie (named and written in tribute for Sendak’s late dog), a terrier who leaves her extremely comfortable home in search of something more. The story can get a little funky and dark in places (a potted plant tries to get Jennie to stay, so she eats it, and a baby is left abandoned by its parents) but try to just go with it– it's part of what makes Sendak so good. If you like the book, check out the weird and wonderful live-action/animated short film of the same name, produced by Spike Jonze and Sendak himself. (Jennie the dog is voiced by Meryl Streep.)

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