Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Banned Book Week REVIEW: In the Night Kitchen

Sendak, M.  (1970).  In the Night Kitchen.  New York:  Harper Collins Publishers.


PLOT SUMMARY:  A young boy named Mickey is having trouble sleeping because of all the noise coming from the kitchen.  He goes on an adventure, losing all his clothes and falling through the floor into the Night Kitchen where he searches for milk for the morning cake.

Okay, so here's the thing I avoided saying in that little summary.  Initially, the Night Kitchen bakers bake Mickey into a cake.  Some kids, will find this freaky.  I mean, there is literally this picture where Mickey's little hand is presumably waving, trying to escape the batter:

Weird, right?

The illustrations are dark and kind of bland, but they do create a fantastical world in which getting that oh-so-necessary cup of milk is essential (making this a wonderful book to share with kids who don't want to drink their milk).

The majority of the text of this book is one long, poetic run-on sentence.

Reasons Censored:

In the Night Kitchen is the 25th most banned book of the 1990s.  But since it hasn't made the top 10 list of challenged books in the 2000s, the ALA doesn't give the reasons for the challenges.

So, here's my guess as to why:  There's full frontal nudity, on the part of wee little Mickey.

I was once told a second-hand story about this book by a librarian.  She told me of a library patron who'd checked this book out and when she returned it, she approached the librarian, carrying the book.  The patron whispered, "The little boy is naked in several of the illustrations of this book."  Before the librarian could respond, the library patron continued, "so I went through and drew blue diapers on all the inappropriate illustrations.  You can feel free to send me the rest of the library's copies to me and I'd be happy to draw diapers on the rest."

Oh, library patron.

Potential Counter-Arguments:

While Mickey is naked and his private parts are exposed in several of the illustrations, he's depicted as a small child.  There's nothing sexual about it.  In fact, Mickey is shown to be an age when children often love to run around naked.  I doubt the four or five-year-olds would take offense.

Now, if someone wanted to object to this book on the grounds that the book is a little creepy...well, I'd have to agree.  But I wouldn't take it off my classroom book shelf.  How about you, few and dear readers?

Uses in the Classroom:

This is a fun imaginative read that could be used as a bedtime story.  Since all of the Night Kitchen bakers are male, a teacher could try to challenge traditional gender roles by showing men cooking.  After reading the book, a teacher could guide children in the kitchen and create some of their own fantastical treats.  (Of course, under no circumstances should the teacher attempt to bake any child into a cake.  No matter how delicious kiddie-cake may be.  It's still illegal, or something)

Another option includes discussing where readers really think milk comes from.  They could tell stories about the possibilities, then drink their daily dose of it, chanting "the milk's in me."

Quotes of Note:

"Did you ever hear of Mickey, how he heard a racket in the night and shouted "Quiet down there!" and fell through the dark, out of his clothes, past the moon & his mama & papa sleeping tight."

"And they put that batter up to bake a delicious Mickey-Cake."

"What's all the full?  I'm Mickey the pilot!  I get milk the Mickey way!"


  1. I don't know if I should laugh or cry about the library patron story.
    Theresa N

  2. One reason I thought about why parents might not want to read this story to young children - I don't know if a child would really think about this - but... maybe parents wouldn't want to encourage their children walking around naked.



Related Posts with Thumbnails