Monthly Archives: February 2016

Outside Over There


My son and I love the first two of Maurice Sendak’s Wild Things trilogy. We’re forever roaring our terrible roars (Where the Wild Things Are) and I can’t bake a cake now without howling ‘milk in the batter! milk in the batter! we bake cake and nothing’s the matter!’ (In The Night Kitchen.) Those books both have little boys, Max and Mickey, as the central characters so when I discovered that the third book in the trilogy – Outside Over There – has a female heroine I ordered it straight away.

OOT might not have the immediate appeal of the other two books but it is not without charm. It is a more sinister tale – my husband finds it terrifying and says it will have to be banned when our son is old enough to understand it. (E Duthie writes very eloquently about this reaction to the book in the excellent blog We Read It Like This) Ida is looking after her baby sister when goblins come and steal the baby leaving a changeling in her place. Sendak was a young child at the time of the Lindbergh Kidnapping which had a lasting impression on him, and this story draws heavily on that event with the baby resembling Charles Lindbergh Jr.

The tale has three female characters: Ida, her younger sister and her mother. Ida’s father is away at sea and he instructs her to look after “the baby and her Mama.” In some ways Ida is a traditional female character: caring for other people. She also saves the baby by playing a jig on her horn and thereby making the goblins dance “so fierce, so fast, they quick turned into a dancing stream”, following the mythology of a dangerous female musician (sirens et al.) But she is also brave and bright – she saves the baby herself rather than calling for someone else to help her. And she’s illustrated in wonderful powerful poses.

Heroine rating: 4/5


The Tiger Who Came To Tea


TTWCTT has not one but two central female characters: Sophie and her mother. It even almost passes the Bechtel test as it opens with them having a conversation together at the table (unfortunately all the visitors Mummy suggests are male but still, pretty close.)

If you haven’t read it you really should. It is lots of people’s favourite picture book and it is easy to see why. It is such an absurd premise with such vibrant pictures. (I personally am a bit more of a fan of Mog – review to come in the future.)

It may lose a couple of feminist points on the very heteronormative family. Sophie’s mummy is a housewife and her daddy goes out to work. It is also daddy who comes home and solves the problem of what to eat for dinner. However, you could also read the book in a way which reflects the spirit of second wave feminism (it was published in 1968.) The tiger could be an imagined excuse that Mummy tells Daddy to explain why she hasn’t conformed to her role and gone shopping and prepared dinner… but that may be a bit of a stretch.

Michael Rosen suggests that the Tiger might represent of a much darker threat. Judith Kerr grew up in 1930s Germany. Her father was a Jewish intellectual and on a Nazi death list and they managed to escape to Prague in 1933, something that she later wrote about in the semi-autobiographical (and excellent) When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. So she knows a thing or two about dangerous people coming into your house and ruining the happy home.

Heroine rating: 3/5