(USA TODAY) Fifty years ago, when Maurice Sendak's picture book, Where the Wild Things Are, was released, not everyone hailed it as a masterpiece.
The story of a wild boy in a wolf suit who's sent to bed without dinner after telling off his mother — "I"LL EAT YOU UP!" — left some grownups uneasy, at least in 1963.
Publishers Weekly hailed Sendak's "superb" illustrations, but warned, "they may well prove frightening, accompanied as they are by a pointless and confusing story."
Library Journal called it "the kind of story that many adults will question," but added, "the child will accept it wisely and without inhibition, as he knows it is written for him."
To mark the book's 50th anniversary on Saturday, bookstores are throwing parties welcoming "Wild Things-themed attire." Publisher HarperCollins has issued an anniversary edition restoring the original color to Sendak's illustrations.
Last year, Library Journal surveyed its readers on their all-time favorite picture book.Wild Things was No. 1, and the magazine asked, "was there really, really any doubt?"
More than 20 million copies have been sold in 32 languages. In 2009, thanks to Spike Jonze's film adaptation, the book hit No. 4 on USA TODAY's Best-Selling Books list. Since the list began in 1993, Wild Things has been in the top 150 for 87 weeks.
Anita Silvey, author of the 100 Best Books for Children, says Wild Things (for ages 2 to 5) touches "not only the children who read it, but most of the artists who entered the realm of children's books after it appeared."
With just 338 words and Sendak's vivid illustrations, it tells the story of Max, the banished boy who wills his bedroom into a forest filled with monsters. But the ending is happy: After the monsters are tamed and all enjoy a "wild rumpus," a homesick Max returns home to find his supper, "still hot."
Author Dave Eggers, who wrote the film screenplay of Wild Things, recalls he was scared when his mother read him the book as a toddler: "I was used to tidier narratives with a clear message of who's good and who's bad. But Sendak's monsters weren't simple or cute."
At 7, Eggers started writing and illustrating his own stories that "involved a boy who befriended monsters who were misunderstood. I was always into monsters, but nobody did them better than Sendak."
Sendak, who wrote or illustrated more than 100 other books, including In The Night Kitchen, died last year at 83. He was often asked: What happened to Max?
He liked to say that Max, an "unmarried Jewish boy," still was living with his mother and didn't go out much except to see his therapist.