- By Don Alexander
- Published 03/24/2008
The story book We Are All in the Dumps by Maurice Sendak illustrates a visual portrayal of two guys, Jack and Guy, who encounter several challenges and end up rescuing a rather poor little boy. The story itself makes you think about several issues and symbolisms. First, the theme of “life is unfair” comes out strikingly when you see that Jack and Guy almost pounce the little boy with the black eye on the head. Then there is the whole issue of “bullying” that takes place throughout the story. We see bullying from the rats, then from Jack and Guy, and also from the cat and moon. The symbolism of “nature” being a monster is awesome as well. It’s something none of us have any control over, and the idea of “helplessness” jumps out of the story when you see the moon carrying away Jack and Guy. I was a bit concerned by the half nakedness of some of the pictures in the story. Some characters only had diapers on with no shirt or pants. When you consider that these are ugly monsters and not real children, this may be scary or misread by children as well.
However, this story lends itself to identifying with kids at their level, and that could be used in my future classroom as a tool for discipline and following directions. How? Well, after a reading of the story
in a small group, we could discuss the power of choices with the students. In the end of the story, Jack and Guy make a decision to do the right thing, rather than letting the little boy with the black eye suffer and die. When they make that choice, it gives the children a visual representation of good versus evil, and the consequences of good choices. The look on the little boy with the black eye’s face at the end of the book says it all: “I am taken care of now and life is better for me.” After reading this story a discussion about the power of good choices is definitely in order. Why did the boy say “I’m taken care of now and life is better for me.” Why did Jack and Guy save him? What have you done to save somebody before? These questions will illicit some outstanding answers from students. The pictures in the story are too graphic for some students, and caution should be exercised. I don’t know what it is about some authors out there who want to draw the most horrid creatures, just to capture children’s attention, I suppose. What a shame.
Maurice Sendak is an excellent author and his books are funny, educational, and are just plain good stories. However, some students will not want to look at the pictures, and they shouldn’t be forced to do so. Parents have every right to ask teachers not to read Sendak if the pictures scare their children.