'Where The Wild Things Are' Stars Reveal Their Histories With The Book

'It was like a big, big deal, deeply embedded in our collective psyche,' Lauren Ambrose says of Maurice Sendak's 1963 classic.

BEVERLY HILLS — It's a rite of passage. It's the flexing of one of our most important muscles: imagination. But most importantly, it's pure and simple fun.

It is the reading of Maurice Sendak's classic 1963 book "Where the Wild Things Are." And for five decades, it has been a childhood tradition.

"It was read to me," 48-year-old Oscar winner Forest Whitaker recalled recently, remembering the first time he became aware of the book that he'll help turn into a feature film this weekend. "First, it was read to me as a kid. And then it was one of those books I was able to like when I got old enough to read. ... I've had it around forever. Now, I read it to my kids."

"I don't remember anything," grinned Max Records, the 12-year-old star of the Spike Jonze adaptation of Sendak's supposedly unfilmable book. "Because I was probably like 1 and a half years old, having my parents read it to me."

"I think it's strange that your parents read that to you when you were 1 and a half," actress Catherine Keener ("The 40-Year-Old Virgin") said to Records, perhaps because she plays his mother in the film. "Especially considering that people have perceived [the book] as being potentially scary to children."

A masterpiece of American illustrated children's literature, Sendak's words and pictures blew onto the literary scene in the early '60s with a wind so powerful you'd think it had come from one of those yellow-eyed beasts he imagined. Since then, it has won numerous awards and sold millions of copies around the world — not too shabby for a book made up of only nine sentences.

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"It's weird, because I didn't really count," laughed Whitaker, who provides the voice for the monster Ira. "But I think, as a kid, I knew that the story was more in the pictures."

"I just basically got into it," Keener said of her own experience, which came relatively late in life. "I knew of the book, but I didn't really know it until Spike introduced me to the world of Maurice Sendak — which is pretty amazing."

"I read it to my kids," remembered Catherine O'Hara ("Home Alone"), who also voices a monster. "I really appreciated the art. Beautiful."

"I read the book as a kid; it was read to me," explained Lauren Ambrose ("Six Feet Under"), who provides another voice in the film and further proves the wide influence of Sendak across so many ages and backgrounds. "I read it to my kid now.

"One of my best friends from childhood has a giant tattoo of Max with a fork in his hand down her back," Ambrose said of Sendak's main "Wild Things" icon, a wide-eyed boy in a wolf suit who just wants to cause a ruckus. "It was like a big, big deal, deeply embedded in our collective psyche. And also, on her back."

Check out everything we've got on "Where the Wild Things Are."

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