BooksForKidsBlog

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Don't Go There? Where the Mild Things Are by Maurice Send-up


Is nothing sacred? Well, when it comes to spoofs, the more sacred the cow the better the burger. (See, for example, Jon Scieszka's The True Story of the Three Little Pigs and The Frog Prince, Continued (Picture Puffin))

Maurice Send-up's, er, send up of Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are can't be faulted for taking on a classic, but Where the Mild Things Are: A Very Meek Parody(Simon & Schuster, 2009) can be faulted for failing to hit the mark for its presumed intended audience.

Mog, an exceedingly dull little monster, displeases his parents because he chooses to sit alone in his room reading the dullest books ever written--ZIP Codes in Guatemala, Facts about Dirt, The Big Book of Dull Facts. The crisis comes when his parents finally hit the wall with their little offspring's unmonstrous behavior:

One Day Mog's parents caught him gently petting a kitten.

"Stop playing with your food!" growled Mog's father.

His parents sent him to bed without his dinner. This made Mog very unhappy.

(But it made the kitten very happy indeed.)

Like Max, Mog's bed transforms, in this case appropriately into an AMC Gremlin, which speeds him away to another world--apparently one where the ennui suits his clothes, so to speak. Mog finds himself in Dullsville, with creatures who are even milder and more boring than he--depicted as caricatures of a mild comedian (Jay Leno), a mild homemaker (Martha Stewart), a "very, very, very rich" but mild man (Bill Gates), and a mild former vice president "who had almost been President, but not quite" (Al Gore). There Mog snores through lectures by Bill on "Fun with the Binary Code," Martha on Income Tax Law 101 (not to mention proper sock-folding), Jay on income tax jokes, and Al on light bulb replacement.

Needless to say, like Max, Mog returns from his non-adventure a changed kid, embracing his monster parents with relief and at last making them happy with his now appalling ways.

(The kitten was not so happy.)

The story of a little prodigal's return to home and hearth has long been standard plot fare for children's literature, and Sendak's version deserves all the credit it gets for his creative interpretation (even if, as this spoof points out, his drawings, so artfully cross-hatched, "have too many lines.") The trouble here is that no preschooler is going to get any of this humor (and yes, there is some here.) Al Gore's non-election is way before their time; last time I looked, Martha Stewart and Jay Leno weren't starring in their own shows on Noggin; and Bill Gates has yet to sing a duet with Ernie on Sesame Street.

The humor here lies in the graphic arts, from the sticker on the cover which reads "Winner of the Cheap Gold Sticker," to Bonnie Leick's clever illustrations: the U.S. map Mog follows to Dullsville--OHIO (Dull), ILLINOIS (Normal), ARIZONA (Why?), LOUISIANA (Why Not?)--and Al Gore snoozing against a recycling bin through Martha's clothesline lesson, only to waken to replace, somewhat stiffly, all the fluorescent bulbs in Dullsville with candles.

If I were a bookstore manager charged with marketing this one, I think I'd stick it near the graphic novels in the teen reads section, hard by Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days. It just might give young adults--young enough to remember the Sendak original, old enough to know who the "Mild Things" are supposed to be and presumably to get the jokes--a few chuckles.

For the picture-book set, this one should have been titled Where the Mild Things Are: A Very Weak Parody. The kids' shelves should be Where the Mild Things Aren't.

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