One-Minute Book Reviews

February 10, 2012

‘Joy and Woe Are Woven Fine’ in Maurice Sendak’s ‘Bumble-Ardy’

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:20 pm
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A birthday party goes haywire in a tale of an adopted pig whose parents “got ate”

Bumble-Ardy. By Maurice Sendak. Michael Di Capua/Harper Collins, 40 pp., $17.95.

By Janice Harayda

Maurice Sendak has often spoken of his admiration for William Blake, and in his latest book he develops a variation on the poet’s idea that “joy and woe are woven fine” in human life. Or, in this case, porcine life.

The author of "Where the Wild Things Are" returns with another wild rumpus

Bumble-Ardy transposes into a darker key a brief animated segment that Sendak and Jim Henson created for Sesame Street in 1970. Its hero is no longer a boy who throws a birthday party for himself on a whim while his mother is out. Bumble-Ardy is an 8-year-old pig who has survived the slaughter of parents who never gave him a birthday party. He lives with his adoptive aunt Adeline, who can’t see that he wants a big celebration when he turns nine. So he invites a group of swine to a masquerade after she leaves for work. He soon finds their sty full of costumed revelers — a jester, a pirate, Louis XIV and others – whose carousing turns into a six-page bacchanal reminiscent of the “wild rumpus” in Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. The party’s over when Adeline returns and threatens to turn the outsiders into ham if they don’t leave.

Sendak’s pictures express an idea larger than that of a birthday party gone haywire: the irretrievability of time. Bumble-Ardy brims with images of objects found in vanitas paintings, those symbol-filled art works about the transience of earthly life, or in their modern counterparts. His frontispiece and title spread show a birth certificate, a June 2008 calendar and the “Hogwash Gazette” along with pictures of Bumble-Ardy’s dead parents. Nearly every subsequent page has a memento mori, such as a skull, or another traditional symbol the brevity of life — a watch, mirror, dead flower, flickering candle, musical instrument, broken plate or a number representing minutes, days or years.

These images may have a melancholy undertone, but Bumble-Ardy isn’t funereal. Sendak applies his watercolors with a light hand and surrounds his memento mori with images full of  life. He also writes in lively rhyming poetry, beginning with a “Simple Simon” trochaic meter — “Bumble Ardy had no party when he turned one” — and moving on to iambic and anapestic couplets or triplets. If some verses work less well than in the more light-hearted Sesame-Street video, where music masked their imperfections, they offer a welcome counterpoint to the reminders of death. They have the spirit of “Three Blind Mice,” a nursery rhyme so bouncy you don’t dwell on the farmer’s wife who “cut off their tails with a carving knife.”

But Bumble-Ardy is at heart the story of a lonely and misunderstood pig who is — as child psychologists say — “resilient.” Its hero doesn’t sulk when nobody gives him a birthday party. He plans one for himself. And he tries desperately to please an aunt who is furious afterward: “I Promise! / I Swear! / I Won’t Ever / Turn Ten!” Adeline covers him with kisses, so the story ends happily enough, but Bumble-Ardy’s plight remains sad. He copes by denying reality: He “won’t ever” turn ten.

Sendak’s unwillingness to preach about such situations has always set him apart from authors who favor tidy solutions and has helped to earn him a deserved reputation as one of the world’s finest picture-book illustrators.  Bumble-Ardy stays the course. Sendak isn’t warning parents to do better than those of its hero. He is saying: This is reality for some children. His message isn’t a “message.” It is closer a question, written on a sign held by a pig: “Where Do We Go From Here?”

Best line/picture: The six-page of the bacchanal, which includes visual references to Sendak’s earlier books and to those of other artists.

Worst line/Picture: Sendak says of Bumble-Ardy’s fifth, sixth, and seventh birthdays: “And five six seven just simply were not.” The line is wordy: It didn’t need both adverbs, “just” and “simply.” And the story includes an inherent contradiction. The book casts Bumble-Ardy as a young pig, but eight years old isn’t young for a pig: It’s at least middle-aged.

Published: September 2011

Furthermore: Sendak won a Caldecott Medal for his picture book, Where the Wild Things Are, which One-Minute Book Reviews reviewed in its “Classic Picture Books Every Child Should Read” series.  Bumble-Ardy is the first book that he has written and illustrated since Outside Over There in 1981. You can follow Jan (@janiceharayda) on Twitter by clicking on the follow button in the sidebar on this site.

You may also want to read “American Library Association to Little Kids: Women Are Second Best,” a post about male artists’ dominance of the Caldecott awards.

© 2012 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

July 31, 2007

To Thine Own Birthday Be True

Filed under: Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:14 am
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“The secret of eternal youth is arrested development.”
–Alice Roosevelt Longworth

Today is my birthday (did you get me a present?), and I share it with actress Geraldine Chaplin, ballplayer Hank Bauer and spiritualist Helena Blavatsky. I learned this from Linda Rannells Lewis’s The Birthday Book: Their Delights, Disappointments, Past and Present, Worldly, Astrological and Infamous (Little Brown, 1976), which includes a list of famous people born on each day of the year. This graceful meditation on how people have seen birthdays — from pagan times to the disco era — is neither so scholarly that it’s impenetrable nor so lightweight that it has nothing to say. And I like it partly because many of its examples come from great books. Remember Natasha Rostov’s thirteenth Name Day party in War and Peace? Or A.A. Milne’s rhyme: “But now I’m six, I’m as clever as clever / So I think I’ll be six for ever and ever.” Lewis does, and although her book is out-of-print, it may be ripe for a new edition for stop-the-clock baby boomers. The epigraph comes from Dyan Thomas’s “Poem in October”: “O may my heart’s truth / still be sung / On this high hill in a year’s turning.”

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

July 19, 2007

‘The Oxford Book of Ages,’ a Collection of Quotations for Every Birthday

Filed under: Nonfiction,Reference — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:54 am
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Are you always looking for the perfect quote for someone’s 37th or 45th or 63rd birthday? Check out The Oxford Book of Ages (Oxford University Press, 224 pp., varied prices), a collection of quotations by well-known people for every year from zero (for newborns) to 100. A year typically has at least a half dozen entries, all chosen Anthony and Sally Sampson. Not all of the quotations express the kind of uplifting sentiments you might want to inscribe on a card – some are downbeat, if not grim – but all are pithy and intelligent. And the best lines are worth quoting again and again.

Among my favorites:

“Forty is the old age of youth; fifty is the youth of old age.” Victor Hugo

“I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was six. Mother took me to see him in a department store and he asked for my autograph.” Shirley Temple

“After thirty, a man wakes up sad every morning excepting perhaps five or six, until the day of his death.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals, 1834

“I’m sixty-three and I guess that puts me in with the geriatrics, but if there were fifteen months in every year, I’d be only forty-three.” James Thurber

“She drank good ale, strong punch and wine,
And lived to the age of ninety-nine.”
Epitaph for Mrs. Freland, in Edwelton churchyard, Nottinghamshire, 1741

The Oxford Book of Ages is out-of-print in the U.S. but available online and in libraries. If you can’t find it, here’s a consoling comment that Françoise Sagan made at the age of 43: “The one thing I regret is that I will never have time to read all the books I want to read.”

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

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