Research:: Where the Wild Things Are

Art by Joe Compean

Art by Joe Compean


Research:: Where the Wild Things Are

By Nikki Boglin


Scrolling the gram this morning, I stumbled on a cool tattoo by Joe Compean out of Red Eye Gallery here in Houston. This tattoo brought back so many memories. I can remember sitting in a circle listening to my teacher calm us with a story, just before nap time. I can also remember my mom telling me how much she enjoyed this wild little book growing up. That book is one that is still enjoyed by school age kids to this day.


Where the Wild Things Are was written in 1963 by Maurice Sendak. Maurice Sendak (June 10,1928-May 8,2012) was an American writer and illustrator born in Brooklyn, New York. Born to Jewish-Polish parents, his writings and this book in particular were created due to losing many family members to the Holocaust. Sendak also wrote “In the Night Kitchen”, and “Outside Over There”. Where the Wild Things Are has been made into films and even an Opera. Art at it’s finest!

Nostalgia hit and for some reason my crazy brain told me I needed to research this amazing story. A quick google of the book lead me to Wiki. I am not one to believe everything I read on Wiki, so I started digging.

Things you may not know (I know I had no clue)...

Sendak used his experiences as a child to write Where the Wild Things Are. The book, originally planned to be about horses, was transformed into what we know today, due to Sendak’s inability to draw the planned horses. When asked what he would use in lue of horses he responded with “things”. All he could draw were the quirky little characters we associate with the book to this day. No one would ever imagine that those characters were based off the characteristics of his Jewish family members.

His story...


Every Sunday his family would get together at his parents Brooklyn home. The visits were chaotic to say the least. Sendak as a child, observed his relatives being “all crazy - crazy faces and wild eyes”. He described family members as people with “big yellow teeth”, who would “pinch his cheeks until they were red”. Sendak was in his early teens when his family remaining in Europe were killed, during the Holocaust.

Sendak described his childhood as a “terrible situation”, mostly due to the deaths of family members but also due to the fact he became bedridden at a young age due to illness. He also had to hide his sexuality from his parents, never telling them he was gay. Sendak was an atheist who felt life must have been easier for those that believe in  God, “it’s harder for us non-believers”.

“Wild Things” is a term inspired by a Yiddish expression “vilde chaya” meaning “wild animals”. He used this term to tell the tale of his family's wild visits. Sendak drew caricatures of his aunts and uncles to escape those crazy weekly visits. Those caricatures would eventually turn into the “Wild Things”.

The story is told in schools around the world to this day. I don’t think it will ever get old. Since I am grown and have kids of my own, I have seen that some kids books and movies actually have a deeper meaning behind them. We read and watch them as children and see what is on the surface, we laugh and are entertained. As an adult you watch or read the same stories and see that most of the time there is hidden oddities in them to entertain adults as well. I love finding those secrets and researching them. Sometimes they end up telling us the story of the author, sometimes they end up being perversions. It doesn’t matter to me which one I find, I am entertained either way.

It’s crazy the artwork of a tattoo artist affects us in so many ways. Simply scrolling social media took me into this amazing wormhole that filled me with knowledge.