Should Adults Challenge Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen? (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks


Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.


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You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)


Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen has been challenged for its depiction of the boy protagonist as nude.  What is your response?

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Maurice Sendak’s 1970 picture book In the Night Kitchen follows the adventures of a young boy who helps some bakers make a cake before morning. In the process, he loses his clothing, and is depicted as fully nude in the illustrations (including his front side). As a result, the book has been frequently challenged by concerned adults.

While some parents might not want their children to view an unclad child, censorship of a book can never be the answer. In a free society, a few individuals should not be able to hold enough power to prevent everyone from reading or accessing a book. It is ultimately the responsibility of parents to oversee what their children are reading and to help them select developmentally-appropriate books. The rest of society, including other parents, teachers, or librarians, cannot be responsible for attempting to “protect” children from books they personally deem harmful because doing so infringes upon the rights of others to read a book and make up their own minds about its content.

The perhaps annoying thing about protecting the right to read is that individuals ultimately will have to defend the existence of books and materials they personally dislike or think harmful or problematic, in order to ensure that they do not set a precedent for the banning of books. Just because one group or ideology is in favor at one point in time does mean they will stay there. Individuals who begin challenging and banning books may one day find that they have given their ideological opposites the same power and authority. It is something to think about when people begin demanding the removal of books from shelves in order to “protect the children.”

Readers do not have to like Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen. They don’t need to approve of it. They don’t need to read it. But they should allow other people the freedom to read controversial materials and to make up their own minds about its content. That is how a free society keeps censorship from becoming the norm.

8 thoughts on “Should Adults Challenge Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen? (Classic Remarks)

  1. Books Teacup and Reviews says:

    I haven’t read this or was aware of the censorship but I agree with you. Books shouldn’t be banned just because some group of people thinks it isn’t appropriate. I believe some kid or person are likely going to face something represented in book in todays world, stopping anyone from reading particular book is not going to help anyone and only stop readers from opening about their problems or discussing things with their loved ones.


    • Krysta says:

      That’s so true! I think it’s usually better for caregivers to discuss difficult topics with their children, rather than pretending that they don’t exist. Kids will run across those things one day anyway, but they will know their parents aren’t open to discussion and they will try to get their info from less reliable sources.


  2. Eustacia | Eustea Reads says:

    I was not aware of this, but I think another line of argument is that it’s good to speak matter of factly about genitals to kids (especially if you’re going to talk about good vs bad touches, though that’s very far from what the book is about).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. mphtheatregirl says:

    A lot of books (even the most-well-loved ones) have been said not to read due to some “problems”. Seriously- a lot of the books we loved were banned at some point, but now aren’t


    • Krysta says:

      Unfortunately, banning is not a one-time process. When books are banned, that doesn’t usually mean they are entirely pulled from shelves across the U.S. Usually it means they were removed from one school or one library. It’s possible someone right now might be asking a library to take this book out of the collection. But not all book challenges are reported to the ALA so we don’t have a way of knowing every challenge.


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