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#238: SENDAK IN BLACK AND WHITE.

#238: SENDAK IN BLACK AND WHITE.  We speak of early or mid-career Picassos; late Celan or Yeats; later Beethoven, early or later Sondheim.  Maurice Sendak published his first illustrations as far back as 1947, a for-hire piece called Atomics for the Millions, an undistinguished volume that will now set you back a collector’s hefty price; but as early as 1952, in a delightful collaboration with Ruth Krauss called A Hole Is To Dig (Harper & Row), his style was in place and as immediately recognizable as, say, those of Edward Gorey or Dr. Seuss.  He continued to use black and white throughout his long career, long after Where the Wild Things Are or In the Night Kitchen or, later, We Are All In The Dumps With Jack And Guy had pushed back the borders of what you could do with children’s picture books.  (His penultimate book, Mommy?, is thought to be the most elaborate pop-up book ever done.)  His illustrations for George MacDonald, Randall Jarrell, Isaac Bashevis Singer (the beautiful Zlateh the Goat), and The Juniper Tree, his landmark two-volume set of Grimm tales, are all in black-and-white; and when Ruth Krauss, in 1960, did a companion volume for A Hole Is To Dig called Open House for Butterflies, he matched his earlier illustrations without missing a stitch.  Both of these books have retained their freshness as if they’d taken a Spring dip in the fountain of youth; Krauss’ reverse definitions (“Toes are to wiggle,” “A party is to say how-do-you-do and shake hands,” “The world is so you have something to stand on,” and, maybe my favorite, “Mud is to jump in and slide in and yell doodleedoodleedoo”) and, in the later book, her observations? aphorisms? sentences? (just one: “A good thing to know is what a punch in the nose feels like in case somebody asks DO YOU WANT A PUNCH IN THE NOSE?”) are the perfect launch-pads for Sendak’s running, jumping, sitting, bowing, posing, dancing little ones.  They smile with immense self-satisfaction; whatever they do they do with their entire selves; and of course for company there are birds, plants, cats and dogs, including many an early appearance of Jennie, the Sealyham terrier who reaches her apotheosis in the wonderful and touching Higglety-Pigglety Pop! or There Must be More to Life.  There’s a sunset: “Yesterday shows another day is here.”  Six children race along and the caption is: “Look! I’m running away with my imagination!”  If that isn’t Maurice Sendak, I don’t know what could be.  Doodleedoodleedoo!

 

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