10 May MAURICE SENDAK AND I
MAURICE AND I met in the late l960’s after …WILD THINGS. We met at meetings — here, there, hither, yon. He was the first author I interviewed for BOOKS ARE BY PEOPLE (Citation Press, 1969). He asked to see what I wrote about him. He liked it. He encouraged me to go ahead with a project of interviewing 104 authors and illustrators for the book.
Prior to BOOKS ARE BY PEOPLE being published, I was in contact with Dr. Richard Bamberger, then editor of the international journal BOOKBIRD. Richard wrote asking about my book, especially in regard to my interview with Maurice. In a letter dated 2/2/l968, he wrote from Vienna:
“It would be very interesting for our readers to get introduced more information about this famous illustrator” (sic)
The interview appeared in the 3/69 issue of BOOKBIRD. The lead article was was written by another dear friend, Lloyd Alexander, reprinted from THE HORN BOOK (4/1968).
In l977, at an NCTE meeting in New York City, I put together a panel, “Journey of a Book” with Joan Robins, promotion director at Harper, Misha Arenstein, a teacher in Scarsdale, Ursula Nordstrom and Maurice! What an afternoon. Rather than speaking to the audience Ursula and Maurice had a toy-telephone, back-and-forth conversation about working together. The ballroom was packed. We had about an hour. No one would leave. It went on — and on. The session was taped on a small 8-track tape. I cannot find it anywhere. I don’t even think NCTE could locate it at this time. If so, it would be a rarity…a true collector’s item. What a loss! Ursula and Maurice talking together!
Maurice has a long wondrous career – a genius in the field. Prior to what is considered his first book, THE WONDERFUL FARM by Marcel Ayme (Harper, l951), he took pride in his ‘first true’ children’s book, GOOD SHABBIS, EVERYBODY, published in l950 by the United Synagogue Commission of Jewish Education when he was twenty-two years old.
Our connections went on. He was a Mickey Mouse collector; I was nicknamed “Mickey” as a child. He almost insisted I include Ruth Krauss and Crocket Johnson in BOOKS ARE BY PEOPLE. He didn’t have to. I adored the couple. We had a host of mutual friends including Beatrice Schenk de Regniers, Mort Schindel..and so many others.
We rejoined with another friend, Karla Kuskin, on February ll, 1981 at the City of New York Salute to Maurice Sendak held at the Board of Estimates Chambers to herald the cast of “Really Rosie”. Mayor Ed I. Koch bestowed a host of witty remarks about Maurice.
It has been said over and over that he was a curmudgeon, sometimes mean-spirited, gruff, et.al. I never knew him this way. Even when he bitched about something he was funny – always with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. He was the kind of kid you would send to his room without any supper!
“Childhood is a period of great torment,” he said. He felt that way a lot about adulthood, too, living through a great deal of loss.
How well I recall the days at his home at 29 West 9th Street in Greenwich Village, where we talked endlessly…the address once owned by William E. Parsons, dentist-inventor who was the first to make artificial teeth!
Among his favorite books was HIGGELTY PIGGLETY POP! (Harper, 1967), a tribute to his beloved dog, Jennie, who appeared in his art in almost every book he did from 1954 on.
Jennie writes in …POP!
As you probably noticed, I went away forever. I am very experienced now and very famous. I am even a star…I can’t tell you how to get the Castle Yonder because I don’t know where it is. But if you ever come this way, look for me. Jennie”
Generations to come will look for him…in libraries…in hearts…in the sky when they find a Sendak star and one day might even find the Castle Yonder.