Is a Maurice Sendak Book an Ode to Solo Moms?

Is a Maurice Sendak Book an Ode to Solo Moms?

ESME’s Nicole Kear speaks out about Outside Over There

You know when you read a picture book 491 times to your child, and on the 492nd time, you start having profoundly insightful revelations, which you realize are probably just delusions induced by severe boredom? That happened to me the other day while reading my daughter Maurice Sendak’s Outside Over There.

“This book is all about how the daughter of a Solo Mom rises to the challenge of caring for her sister,” I thought, “only in the weirdest possible way.”

If you haven’t read it, you should do so immediately, because it’s astoundingly great. I will, however, offer a quick recap for the uninitiated.

The Papa’s away at sea and the Mama’s at her widow’s watch, staring off for signs of her husband’s ship. Little Ida has to take care of her baby sister . . . and she does a tremendously crappy job. Don’t believe me? I submit as evidence the fact that, on her watch, a bunch of goblins climb into the window and kidnap the baby, leaving a replacement baby made of ice.

Either Ida’s exceptionally dim-witted or exceptionally high, because she doesn’t notice the difference until she tries to rock the baby and it drips on her. This is when she tries to get her act together and searches for her sister, traveling over hill and dale until she comes to a den where the baby is getting married off to a bunch of goblins, who have now taken the shape of a baby.

That’s not even the weirdest part. Amid these identical-looking babies, Ida can’t tell which one is her sister. So she breaks their enchanted spell by playing her horn super fast, The Red Shoes-style, until all the goblin babies melt away and only her sister is left standing. Presto! Happy ending!

Papa doesn’t come back, by the way. But at least they get a letter, which says (and I’m paraphrasing here): "Be back soon. Hey, Ida, watch the fam for me, will ya?" What I think is implied pretty strongly is this message: "Ida! You need to step up, girl. Stop smoking so much pot and, you know, watch out for predatory goblins."

It’s a book that takes 492 readings before the insights start to come. But last week, it came to me that the book was a statement about the resilience and resourcefulness of kids of Solo Moms.

Then I read on the Internet that the author, Maurice Sendak, was obsessed with the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh’s baby, and that’s what the book is about.


I might need to read it 350 more times before I know for sure, though.

Photo Credit:

Nicole C. Kear, is the author of Now I See You: A Memoir, recently published by St. Martin’s Press. Kear, who lives in New York City, is also an editor, speaker, and mother of three.

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