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Our Collections: Maurice Sendak

July 31, 2013

Really Rosie posterWayne writes: While growing up in the fifties, I had no contact with any work by Maurice Sendak (1928–2012): no A Hole Is to Dig, no Little Bear, no What Can You Do with a Shoe? Or if I did, my memories of it hide in deep shadows cast by Ernest Shepard and Dr. Seuss. By the time Where the Wild Things Are was published in 1963, I was too old for children’s picture books – until I was older still, and could appreciate them on a different level. Instead, my first glimpse of anything by Sendak seems to have been at the end of 1971, when my mother bought the Christmas number of Family Circle. There, among articles on clothes and food and cosmetics, was Sendak’s A Christmas Mystery, with a boy and girl climbing over a snowy hill which proves to be the giant figure of Santa Claus. The art was so appealing that I saved the magazine from the recycling box. Two years later, I preserved another Family Circle, containing Sendak’s illustrated story King Grisly-beard as a special insert. And in 1974, I received as a gift The Juniper Tree and Other Tales from Grimm, selected by Sendak and Lore Segal, which contains some of Sendak’s best drawings, influenced by Dürer and Arthur Hughes. From such small beginnings do collections grow.

To this point, I admired Sendak’s art but had no emotional connection to it. That changed in 1975, when I saw on television Maurice Sendak’s Really Rosie, Starring the Nutshell Kids. An animated special with music by Carole King, it was adapted, under Sendak’s direction, from his 1960 book The Sign on Rosie’s Door and his four miniature volumes of 1962 published as The Nutshell Library: Alligators All Around, an alphabet book; One Was Johnny, a counting book; Pierre, a cautionary tale; and Chicken Soup with Rice, a book of the months. I was delighted with Really Rosie, I suppose because it captures so well the essence of children’s play such as I knew in my own youth – if without a neighborhood impresario-force of nature like Rosie, the aspiring actress who can ‘turn twelve boring hours into a fascinating day’; and this above all sparked my interest in collecting Sendak, followed closely by Selma G. Lanes’s The Art of Maurice Sendak (1980).

Sendak CelebrationLanes’s appreciation showed me the wider range of Sendak’s art, and pointed to many books I wanted to have on my shelves. (A new book, Maurice Sendak: A Celebration of the Artist and His Work, is a good supplement, as is Tony Kushner’s sequel to Lanes, The Art of Maurice Sendak: 1980 to the Present.) Because of other collecting priorities, however, not to mention limited means, I haven’t acquired Sendak’s work as ambitiously as, say, Tolkien, Pauline Baynes, or Arthur Ransome (all subjects of research); therefore my Sendak collection is relatively small, only about five linear feet, and contains only a fraction of the items listed in Joyce Hanrahan’s Sendak bibliography (1985, revised 2001). Nonetheless, I’ve bought most of Sendak’s later books as they appeared or were remaindered, such as Dear Mili and We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy, and through good luck have found at reasonable cost some older firsts, most pleasingly The Nutshell Library, sitting forlorn and seriously underpriced on a high shelf in a London bookshop. I also have a signed Where the Wild Things Are, sold by children’s bookseller Books of Wonder in New York when HarperCollins reissued Sendak’s masterpiece for its twenty-fifth anniversary.

For the most part, I haven’t been much concerned to buy only first printings of Sendak titles, preferring to have a particular book in a later printing rather than none at all, and remembering the jaw-dropping prices for Sendak firsts I’ve seen in specialist catalogues and at book fairs. And yet, not long ago I discovered on eBay, for a surprisingly low price, a very good copy of the poster for the Broadway adaptation of Really Rosie; and I see from a spot check of abebooks that current prices for Sendak’s books aren’t that steep after all, autographed copies aside, and that the better dealers seem to be paying attention to the points listed by Hanrahan. So maybe it’s time to go after one or two titles of special interest, and find another inch or two of space on the Sendak shelves.

Images: Poster for Really Rosie; dust-jacket for Maurice Sendak: A Celebration of the Artist and His Work.

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