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

October 17, 2009

Why Was the Book ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ a Trailblazer? A Classic Reconsidered

Why did Where the Wild Things Are seem revolutionary when it appeared in 1963? What qualities helped it win the 1964 Caldecott Medal? And why has it lasted long enough to inspire a new Spike Jonze movie? A review of the trailblazing children’s book by Maurice Sendak appeared in the “Classic Picture Books Every Child Should Read” series on One-Minute Book Reviews.

www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

May 30, 2008

Classic Picture Books Every Child Should Read – ‘The Backward Day’ by Ruth Krauss With Art by Marc Simont

“Ruth [Krauss] broke the rules and invented new ones, and her respect for the natural ferocity of children bloomed into poetry that was utterly faithful to what was true in their lives.”
— Maurice Sendak in The Horn Book

The Backward Day. By Ruth Krauss. Illustrated by Marc Simont. New York Review Children’s Collection, 32 pp., $14.95. Ages 3 and up.

By Janice Harayda

Ruth Krauss isn’t as well-known today as Margaret Wise Brown, her contemporary and fellow member of the Writer’s Laboratory at the Bank Street School in New York City. But like Brown, Krauss helped to change the path of children’s literature, partly by incorporating more naturalism into a field dominated by fairy and folk tales. One of her most appealing books is The Backward Day, recently revived in a series of classics from New York Review Children’s Collection.

In a wholly nondidactic way, this brief story reminds us — and children — of the joy of activities that cost nothing. A young boy wakes up one morning and decides that it’s “backward day,” an occasion that some children call “opposite day.” He puts his underwear on over his coat and suit and his socks over his shoes. Then he walks backward down the stairs to the breakfast table, where he turns a chair around. When his parents and younger sister arrive, he tells each of them, “Goodnight.” Without so much as a “Don’t be silly!” they go along with him – and keep going along — until he announces “BACKWARD DAY IS DONE” and everything returns to normal.

Simple as it is, this story speaks to – and vicariously fulfills – children’s yearning for power over others, and does so in a realistic and believable way. Its young hero needs no magic wand or potion to get others to do his bidding, which must make it all the more thrilling to many children. Marc Simont’s appealing drawings of a late 1940s family have an ageless elegance leavened with wit. And in an era of oversized picture books that are way too big for many 3-year-olds to handle comfortably, this is the rare hardcover book that has a scale that’s right for small hands.

Recommendation? This book is smaller than most used for library story hours — it’s about the size of Goodnight Moon — but it could still be a great story hour book for a small group, because it offers so many opportunities for audience participation. Children could turn around at some point during the reading, for example, or the leader could “read” the book upside down.

Best line: “Over his suit, he put on his underwear. He explained to himself, ‘Backward day is backward day.’” This line shows Krauss’s understanding of how children think and reason, a hallmark of her books.

Worst line: None.

Published: 1950 (first edition), 2007 (New York Review reprint) www.nyrb.com.

Furthermore: Krauss also wrote A Very Special House, a Caldecott Honor Book, and A Hole Is to Dig, both illustrated by Maurice Sendak. She won another Caldecott Honor for The Happy Day, which has pictures by Marc Simont.

Other titles in the New York Review Children’s Collection include E. Nesbit’s The House of Arden, Rumer Godden’s An Episode of Sparrows, Lucretia P. Hale’s The Peterkin Papers and Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson’s Wee Gillis.

This is the latest in an occasional series of posts on classic picture books every child should read. Reviews of books for children and teenagers appear on Saturdays on One-Minute Book Reviews. Please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed to avoid missing these posts.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

January 12, 2008

Why Was Randolph Caldecott So Great? (Quotes of the Day/Maurice Sendak)

On Monday the American Library Association will announce the winner of its highest award for a picture book, named for the great English illustrator Randolph Caldecott (1846–1886). Why was Caldecott so important? Here’s an answer from Maurice Sendak, who won the Caldecott Medal for Where the Wild Things Are:

“Caldecott’s work heralds the beginning of the modern picture book. He devised an ingenious juxtaposition of picture and word, a counterpoint that had never happened before. Words are left out – but the picture says it. Pictures are left out – but the word says it. In short, it is the invention of the picture book.”

* * *

“My favorite example of Caldecott’s fearless honesty is the final page of Hey Diddle Diddle. After we read, ‘And the Dish ran away with the spoon,’ accompanied by a drawing of the happy couple, there is the shock of turning the page and finding a picture of the dish broken into ten pieces – obviously dead – and the spoon being hustled away by her angry parents. There are no words that suggest such an end to the adventure; it is purely a Caldecottian invention. Apparently, he could not resist enlarging the dimensions of this jaunty nursery rhyme by adding a last sorrowful touch.”

Maurice Sendak in Caldecott & Co.: Notes on Books & Pictures (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1988), a collection of Sendak’s reviews and other writing for adults. The first quote comes from his essay “Randolph Caldecott” and the second from his acceptance speech for the 1964 Caldecott Medal. Sendak is one of the few great picture-book artists who is also a great critic. Caldecott & Co. has only a dozen pages of pictures but doesn’t need more, because Sendak makes you see books without them.

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

November 5, 2007

Deeper Into ‘The Garden of Abdul Gasazi’ and Other Magical Realms: Perry Nodelman’s ‘Words About Pictures’

How do the pictures relate to the words in children’s books? Do they clarify the text? Do they complete it? Or do they do something else, such as moving the text forward?

Canadian scholar Perry Nodelman explores these and other questions in Words About Pictures: The Narrative Art of Children’s Picture Books (University of Georgia Press, $22.95, paperback) www.ugapress.uga.edu, perhaps the best book in print on how pictures relate to stories in children’s books. Nodelman deals at least in passing with hundreds of well-known picture books. But he pays special attention to 14 that have helped to define the field, including Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/08/31/, Peter Spier’s Noah’s Ark www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/05/05/, Chris Van Allsburg’s The Garden of Abdul Gasazi www.chrisvanallsburg.com and Paul Heins’s Snow White, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman.

Nodelman’s central argument – developed with skill and insight — is that it’s a mistake to view picture books like though the narrow lens of their moral, ideological or educational correctness. Rather, he says, they are a serious art form that deserves the respect we give to others.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

August 31, 2007

Classic Picture Books Every Child Should Read #4: Maurice Sendak’s ‘Where the Wild Things Are’

A landmark picture book about how children tame their demons

Where the Wild Things Are. Story and Pictures by Maurice Sendak. HarperCollins, 48 pp., $7.95, paperback, and other editions. Ages 2–8.

By Janice Harayda

Where the Wild Things is so popular today that few people may remember how revolutionary it once was. In a sense it was the Les Demoiselles d’Avignon of picture books, and not just because it, too, is about the night. Maurice Sendak broke the rules of composition and content in 1963 as Picasso had done 1907, and his act of defiance has had an enduring effect on other artists.

Great picture books existed before Sendak wrote and illustrated the story of a boy named Max, who finds an outlet in fantasy for the anger he feels after his mother puts him to bed without supper. And his work shares traits with that of artists such as Beatrix Potter and Randolph Caldecott – meticulous craftsmanship, a seamless interplay of works and pictures, and a refusal to patronize children.

But Where the Wild Things Are put its own stamp on picture books. Sendak tells its story in words and pictures until Max travels to an imaginary realm and orders a “wild rumpus” to start among the “wild things” who have made him their king. Then pictures alone move the narrative forward for three double-page spreads until the text resumes when Max orders the creatures to bed. Sendak’s editor said – and there is no reason to doubt – that no artist had ever structured a picture book this way.

The content was no less unusual than this compositional device. Where the Wild Things Are was the first great picture took to take as its subject — and to dramatize — the interior life of a child. Some adults may wonder why the cover shows a picture of a sleeping “wild thing” instead of Max. The story holds the answer. This is a book about how children use fantasy to tame their troubling feelings. The cover befits that theme: The “wild thing” has gone to sleep at Max’s command.

Canadian scholar Perry Nodelman has described other remarkable aspects of the book, including its use of color and white space, in Words About Pictures: The Narrative Art of Children’s Picture Books. But no one has described the book better than Sendak in accepting 1964 Caldecott Medal from the American Library Association for Where the Wild Things Are.

“Certainly we want to protect our children from new and painful experiences that are beyond their emotional comprehension and that intensify anxiety; and to a point we can prevent premature exposure to such experiences,” he said. “That is obvious. But what is just as obvious – and what is too often overlooked – is the fact that from their earliest years children live on familiar terms with disrupting emotions, that fear and anxiety are an intrinsic part of their everyday lives, that they continually cope with frustration as best they can. And it is through fantasy that children achieve catharsis. It is the best means they have for taming Wild Things.”

The idea that fantasy is the “best means” for “taming Wild Things” – if radical when the book first appeared – may be more so today. Adults may acknowledge the value of daydreaming, unstructured play and other ways for children to indulge their fantasies. But it is probably safe to say that experts have convinced most parents that the “best means” for children to tame their “wild things” is through talk, or perhaps venting their anger by kicking a soccer ball. Given that shift, it might seem a miracle that Where the Wild Things Are has remained popular. And yet it isn’t a miracle at all, because that kind of ability to survive changes in fashion is exactly what makes a book a classic.

Best line: The last five words. Max returns to his room and finds his supper waiting for him “and it was still hot.” When a new edition of Where the Wild Things Are was being prepared ten years after it won the Caldecott Medal, Sendak’s editor wrote to ask him if he wanted to change “hot” to “warm” because Harper Collins had heard from “a couple of children (or their rotten parents)” that “children don’t like hot” food. Authors, editors will never stop trying to change your work, even after you are rich, famous and have won the highest honor in your field.

Worst line: None.

Editor: Ursula Nordstrom

Published: 1963 (first edition)

Furthermore: Nordstrom said that the three consecutive wordless spreads were unique in a letter to Nat Hentoff, collected in Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom (Harper Collins, 1998), edited by Leonard S. Marcus, pp. 184–185. She asked about the change from “hot” to “warm” in a letter to Sendak in the same book, p. 355.

You may also want to read “American Library Association to Little Kids: Women Are Second Best,” a response to the medals gap between male and female Caldecott winners.

Janice Harayda www.janiceharayda.com is an award-winning critic who has been the book columnist for Glamour, the book editor of the Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle www.bookcritics.org. A new review of a book for children or teenagers appears every Saturday on One-Minute Book Reviews.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

August 11, 2007

Is Writing for Children Easier Than Writing for Adults? Quote of the Day (Maurice Sendak)

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 5:19 pm
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Nothing frustrates many picture-book artists more than hearing people say that writing for children is “easier” than writing for adults. Maurice Sendak suggests why it isn’t easier in these comments on the work of the great French-born American illustrator Tomi Ungerer (Moon Man), winner of the 1998 Hans Christian Andersen Award for illustration:

“Some adults look at [Ungerer’s] work, then rush to drag out the bromide that explains how easy it is to make a picture book: ‘Just a handful of sentences and a lot of blazing pictures.’ These critics fail to see that a successful picture book is a visual poem.”

Maurice Sendak in Caledcott & Co.: Notes on Books and Pictures (Farrar, Straus/Michael di Capua, 1990), by Maurice Sendak.

Comment by Janice Harayda:
Maurice Sendak is one of the few living picture-book artists who is also a great critic. Caldedott & Co. collects his reviews of books by or about authors or illustrators who include Edward Ardizzone, Randolph Caldecott, Walt Disney, Beatrix Potter, Margaret Wise Brown and Arthur Yorkinks and Richard Egielski. This book would help almost anyone gain a better understanding – and appreciation of – the gifts of the artists he considers.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

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