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Favourite books: Where the Wild Things Are

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By Lizzie Finlaychildren’s illustrator and author

Her first picture book Dandylion (Red Fox, ISBN 9781862305960) is out now!

Show your children how to face their fears using these action-packed activities based on Maurice Sendak’s classic monster tale

Where the wild things are

Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (Red Fox, ISBN 9780099408390) is a timeless masterpiece. The illustrations, the fabulous monsters, the beautiful cross-hatching, and the surreal, dreamlike narrative beckons the reader to join the adventure. The themes are perfect for inspiring discussion on confronting life’s scary things, mastering your fears and being brave, letting off steam, saying goodbye, and the comfort of returning home safe and sound.

Synopsis

After causing havoc in his wolf suit, Max is sent to bed without any tea. In his bedroom a magical forest grows, enveloping him. He sails through time and washes up where the terrifying wild things are. He bravely tames them by looking straight into their eyes, and they name him their king. After a wonderful rumpus, Max is homesick and, to the wild things’ great resistance, sails home to find his supper waiting for him… still hot!

Wild chatter

After reading the story, ask the children what they think of it. Have they read it before? Why do they think it has remained popular for so long? (It was first published in 1963.) Are the monsters scary? Why? Are the descriptions or the pictures of the monsters scarier?

Confronting the scaries

This game is a team version of ‘Rock, paper, scissors’. Each character type has an identifying action. Practise these together:

  • Giants: stand on tiptoes, raising arms over heads, fingers curled, growling.
  • Wizards: crouch slightly and point wands, shouting Kazam.
  • Elves: squat, cupping hands around their ears, screeching.

Explain that Giants conquer Elves (who shrink and shrivel), Elves conquer Wizards (who clutch their hearts), and Wizards conquer Giants (who are zapped by wands, freeze and fall). Divide the class into two teams and designate a safety zone for each team. Each team should huddle to decide on their character. Once agreed, the teams line up to face each other. After a count to three, the teams reveal their character by their actions. The winning team chase the losing team, capturing (tagging) them. The losing team runs for their safety zone. Captured players join the opposite team; identical characters are a draw. Play until one team consumes the other.

Discuss the story’s theme of confronting fears. Would the children run away or stand and stare at the scary wild things? Ask the children about their own fears. Explain that sometimes the thing we are most scared of might be equally as scared by us. Talk about the game, where everyone had an equal chance of winning.

Things aren’t always what they seem

Talk about what the monsters thought when they saw Max dressed as a wolf. (They were frightened.) Play this game to illustrate that things are not always what they seem.

Indoors, lay real eggs on a path at regular intervals. Let the children memorise the position of the eggs before they leave the room to be blindfolded. Then replace the eggs with piles of cornflakes. Encourage the blindfolded players to follow the path without breaking any ‘eggs’, while spectators shout directions, groan, and cheer.

Discuss whether the children were nervous or scared when blindfolded and walking along the path. Was it what they imagined? Reaffirm that things are not always as scary as they seem.

Design a wild thing

This is a drawing exercise based on the game ‘Consequences’. Give out colouring pens and A4 paper. Each child secretly draws a monster’s head and neck before folding the paper to conceal it (leaving some marks showing).

Each child should then pass their paper along to the next child, who draws the torso to hips. The third child draws the hips to the ankles, and the fourth draws the feet. When everyone’s ready, announce the grand unfolding!

Point out that monsters are not real. Even though we have drawn scary features, they look quite silly. Would the children run from these monsters?

Land of fears

Ask the children to write their own stories about strange lands, meeting their fears, their wild rumpus and safe return. To aid their imaginations, give out paper boats and let them write their names and draw themselves inside like Max. Can they imagine sailing away in their boats? Are they wearing wolf suits? Where will they land? What will it look like? What greets them? Can they look their scary monsters in the eyes like Max? What do they miss about home? How do they get back?

Invite the children to use dreamlike, run-on sentences as in the story. Encourage happy endings so they have a sense of closure and achievement.

Wild thing workshop

Invite the children to create the land where the wild things are, making trees and creeping vines using crêpe paper, cardboard and newspaper. Hang some stars and a moon from the ceiling.

Make paper-plate masks for children who are going to be the wild things, and decorate with cotton wool, feathers and fur. Draw scales, add string tails, and cut out claws and teeth. For the children wanting to be Max, make wolf-suit ears, a tail and a crown.

The wild rumpus

Decorate a large room with the wild decorations and invite the children to wear their masks and costumes. Read the story as the children act it out, using percussion instruments for the wild rumpus. Play ‘Wild Thing’ by the Troggs for them to dance to!

The story will calm the children down at the end, as Max sails back to his home comforts. Finish before lunch so they have a meal waiting like Max, or have a class treat altogether.

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