Outside Over There ***GGG***

Sadly, just like two of my other favorite childrens’ book authors, Dr. Seus and William Steig, Maurice Sendak often leaves female characters completely out of his stories or gives them tiny parts.

Outside Over There is different–the three main characters are female. it’s a perfect story: strange, scary, and feminist. This book would make a great movie (are you listening Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers– or some female moviemakers out there?) It’s about  a brave girl who rescues her baby sister after she is stolen away by goblins.

The prose is classic Sendak– concise and beautiful. It begins, “When Papa was away at sea, and Mama in the arbor, Ida played her wonder horn, to rock the baby still, but never watched.” The accompanying illustrations are creepy and intense. The mother is shown in a daze, staring out to sea, obviously missing her husband horribly, not paying any attention to Ida who holds her crying baby sister. You can feel the aloneness and the abdonment the whole family is experiencing, but especially Ida, who is trying her best to take care of the baby, before she makes her fateful mistake of not watching.

Goblins sneak in the window and steal the baby, leaving one made of ice (an image that’s never completely left me) When Ida turns to hug the baby and feels her melt, she makes a fist: ” ‘They stole my sister away,’ she cried. ” ‘To be a nasty goblin’s bride.’ ” She climbs out her window into “outside over there” guided by the voice of her father from the sea. When she finds the goblins, she plays her horn until they dance into such a frenzy “they quick churned into a dancing stream.” Ida grabs up her sister, and brings her home to their mother, still in the arbor, now holding a letter from their father: “I’ll be home one day, and my brave, bright little Ida must watch the baby and her Mama for her Papa who loves her always. Which is just what Ida did.”

Like his much more famous book Where the Wild Things Are, this adventure story is told in less words than this review. Sendak is amazing. I wish more people knew about his best book.

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