In the Night Kitchen
is a popular and controversial children's picture book
, written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak
, and first published in 1970. The book depicts a young boy's dream journey through a surreal baker's kitchen where he assists in the creation of a cake to be ready by the morning.
A young boy named Mickey sleeps in his bed when he is disturbed by noise on a lower floor. Suddenly, he begins to float, and loses his clothes as he drifts into a surreal world called the "Night Kitchen".
He falls into a giant mixing pot that has the batter for the morning cake. While Mickey is buried in the mass, three identical bakers, all strongly resembling Oliver Hardy, mix the batter and prepare it for baking while unaware (or unconcerned) that there is a boy inside. As the bakers are about to put it in the "Mickey oven", Mickey emerges protesting that he is not the batter's milk.
To make up for the baking ingredient deficiency, Mickey (now wearing a bodysuit of batter from the neck down) constructs a working airplane out of bread dough to reach the mouth of a gigantic milk bottle. Using the plane, he flies up to the bottle's opening and dives in. After briefly revelling inside the liquid as his covering of batter disintegrates, he pours the needed milk in a cascade down to the bakers who joyfully finish making the morning cake.
With the dawn breaking, the naked Mickey crows like a rooster and slides down the bottle to magically return to his bed, with everything back to normal beyond the happy memory of his experience.
Controversy in the United States
When Mickey (who looks to be about three years old) enters the Night Kitchen, he loses his pyjamas and spends much of the story fully naked.
Critics of the book object to Mickey's nudity, with some librarians drawing little pants on Mickey with a marker, or diapers with correction fluid. Some also take a Freudian interpretation of events, with the nudity, free-flowing milky fluids, and giant (allegedly phallic) milk bottle. Sendak himself claims not to have been trying to be controversial; his decision to derobe Mickey was to avoid the "mess" that falling into the batter would make of Mickey's clothes.
As a result, the book proved controversial in the United States on release and has continued to be so. The book has been ranked 25th place on the "100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000" compiled by the American Library Association.
The art is similar to that in Where The Wild Things Are,
utilizing specific color tones and drawing a dream environment around a young child. Sendak's unique style captures the spirit and feeling of a dream, as Mickey floats, flies, and dances from one panel to the next.
Written in 1970, it has received the following awards:
- 1971 Caldecott Honor Book
- Notable Children's Books of 1940--1970 (ALA)
- Best Books of 1970 (SLJ)
- Outstanding Children's Books of 1970 (NYT)
- Best Illustrated Children's Books of 1970 (NYT)
- Children's Books of 1970 (Library of Congress)
- Carey-Thomas Award 1971--Honor Citation
- Brooklyn Art Books for Children 1973, 1975
- Beginner Books
- One of the original attractions at the Metreon entertainment shopping centre in San Francisco was an In the Night Kitchen themed restaurant, which served diner-style food. Within the same shopping centre was also a children's play area, with toys modelled on Sendak's children's books.
- The Gorky's Zygotic Mynci song 'Gegin Nos' (trans. 'Night Kitchen') from their 1994 album 'Tatay' claims on the album's sleevenotes "idea nicked from 'in the night kitchen' by maurice sendak".