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The Wonderful Farm (1951)

The Wonderful Farm
Written by Marcel Ayme

Illustrated by Maurice Sendak

Harper and Brothers

Two years after Atomics for the Millions, Sendak was 21 and out of school and looking for work. You'd think it would have been a straight line of progression into illustration, but it was much more roundabout than that.

He'd already had some work designing window displays for New York department stores. The biggest display involved life-size paper-mache figures of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. But when his older brother Jack came home - discharged from the army - the two of them decided to become toy makers. They designed small, wooden figures from classic fairy tales and Maurice hand-painted each of them.

They brought them to F.A.O. Schwarz for consideration, but were turned down. The toy store felt they would be too expensive to sell well... but realizing how artistic and talented he was, they did offer Maurice a job designing their display windows. Maurice agreed.

F.A.O. Schwarz is the oldest toy store in the United States, and while they were still in business, they sold all sorts of amazing toys, games and dolls. And books.

Picture books.

Maurice Sendak

Meanwhile, in Paris...

French novelist Marcel Ayme had published the collection of short stories Les Contes du chat perché to great acclaim, about two little girls and their magical adventures with talking farm animals. Harper and Brothers (what is now HarperCollins), wanted to translate and publish the book in the States, under the title The Wonderful Farm. They just needed an illustrator.

Ursula Nordstrom was the children's book editor for Harper and Brothers, and knew the book buyer at F.A.O. Schwarz very well, who then introduced her to young Maurice, who by that time had become completely immersed in the children's book section of the store and enamored with the illustrations of Randolph Caldecott and Felix Hoffman and many others...

Introductions were made, a contract was set, and Sendak got to work.

The Wonderful Farm

The Wonderful Farm

The Wonderful Farm

The Wonderful Farm

The Wonderful Farm

His line-work came a long way. He loves cross-hatching! The textures of the animals and of the forest are vivid. But it would still be another twelve years before he truly came into his own.

Thanks to the National Gallery of Australia for the scans. Visit their site for the original plates.

Thanks to Hal Markovotz for his wonderful biography of Maurice Sendak, published by Chelsea House.

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