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Tag: Maurice Sendak

Book Finds: The Animal Family by Randall Jarrell, Maurice Sendak (Illustrator)

On one of my recent outings culling through library sales and discount book sections I stumbled on The Animal Family by Randall Jarrell with illustrations by Maurice Sendak. Given that Sendak would have turned 85 today (see the Google doodle) I thought it would be a good time to post on this little book.

This is the story of how, one by one, a man found himself a family. Almost nowhere in fiction is there a stranger, dearer, or funnier family — and the life that the members of The Animal Family live together, there in the wilderness beside the sea, is as extraordinary and as enchanting as the family itself.

A lonely hunter living in the wilderness beside the sea gains a family made up of a mermaid, a bear, a lynx, and a boy.

You can see why I picked it up (other than its $1 price tag): classic children’s story/fairy tale with equally classic illustrations.

Book Finds: In The Night Kitchen

20130504-221013.jpgWe stopped by the library this afternoon to pick up a movie my daughter wanted to watch (Tangled if you must know). We were in a hurry as the library closes early on Saturday but I had to make a quick check of the Friends of the Library sale section before we left. And I am glad I did as I picked up a copy of Maurice Sendak‘s In The Night Kitchen for a dollar! And since I just put my kids to bed I figured I would share this find with you my loyal audience.

I used to check this book out of the library frequently when my son was younger. I think he liked the big pictures and the playful, dreamlike quality of the story. I have read it to him before bed dozens of times at least. So when I saw a copy at the library sale I knew I had to pick it up.

For those unfamiliar with the story, it tells the tale of a boy Mickey who wakes up to noises in the night only to fall naked into “the light of the night kitchen.” There he finds three large bakers baking cake for the morning. They put him in the cake at first, mistaking him for milk, but he is having none of it.

I’m not the milk and the milk’s not me! I’m Mickey!

Instead, Mickey takes the dough, molds it into an airplane, flies it to the milk, and pours some out for the bakers.


Soon after Mickey falls safely back into bed.

And that’s why, Thanks to Mickey, we have cake every morning.

It really is a wonderful example of Sendak’s work. Playful, imaginative, otherworldly and yet somehow real too.

And this is why I always stop and look at the book sale when at the library.

You never know what you might find. My children’s bookshelves are proof of that.

And if you need a bedtime story, here is the book in video form:

Watch In the Night Kitchen on PBS. See more from WENH.

My Brother's Book by Maurice Sendak

My Brother's Book CoverI have always been fascinated with the work of Maurice Sendak and  have been a fan of his illustrations.  So when I saw his posthumously published book, My Brother’s Book, at the library I picked it up and read it.  Unfortunately, I think most of this very short book just went over my head.  I’m not real knowledgeable about his life or the literature and art from which it seems to draw its inspiration.   And while I can appreciate it to some degree my overall reaction was “interesting but rather dull.”

Here is the publisher’s description:

Fifty years after Where the Wild Things Are was published comes the last book Maurice Sendak completed before his death in May 2012, My Brother’s Book. With influences from Shakespeare and William Blake, Sendak pays homage to his late brother, Jack, whom he credited for his passion for writing and drawing. Pairing Sendak’s poignant poetry with his exquisite and dramatic artwork, this book redefines what mature readers expect from Maurice Sendak while continuing the lasting legacy he created over his long, illustrious career. Sendak’s tribute to his brother is an expression of both grief and love and will resonate with his lifelong fans who may have read his children’s books and will be ecstatic to discover something for them now. Pulitzer Prize–winning literary critic and Shakespearean scholar Stephen Greenblatt contributes a moving introduction.

Since my reaction was so limited and muted I thought it might be worth looking at how some critics approached it.

Perhaps my mistake was not to read it multiple times and view it through the lens of children’s books.  That seemed to help Dwight Garner:

“My Brother’s Book” will, in fact, probably not make many children happy. It’s an elegiac volume that has little in the way of story; the hero isn’t as winsomely bossy and obnoxious as Sendak’s characters often are.

I disliked it my first time through; I found it a bit evasive, more artiness than art. I wasn’t sure that I cared about Jack or Guy, whose appeal we are supposed to take for granted.

Yet it’s a book that rewards repeat readings. Its charms are simmering and reflective ones. This moral fable may find its largest audience among adults.

Liz Rosenberg (in a Barnes & Noble review) had a similar thought:

No one should claim that his posthumous work, My Brother’s Book, is for children. Let me make that clear from the outset. This is not a children’s book. Most kids would be bored and bewildered by it, stirred and vaguely disturbed. Being a bona fide former child myself, that was my own first reaction. The text, with its Shakespearean undertones, confused me. The images looked eerie and both too much like and too much unlike William Blake. But that was only a first, foolish impression — my own dimwitted attempt to force the book into being something it was not: intended for children.

My Brother’s Book is a beautiful, evanescent elegy, composed about Sendak himself and his late brother, Jack — who here stands for all of Sendak’s beloveds, including his late partner of fifty years, Eugene Glynn. (Aptly enough, Glynn was both an art critic and a psychiatrist for the young.) I use the word composed deliberately, for all of Sendak’s best work was musical and strongly rhythmical, “a kind of muscular rhythm,” as he once described it. The book echoes language from Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale, a play of love, loss, jealousy, and imagination run amok. That play contains Shakespeare’s most famous stage direction: “Exit, pursued by a bear.” The note could not be more apt.

More below.

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