Showing posts with label Harper Collins. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Harper Collins. Show all posts

5.19.2012

We Are All In the Dumps with Jack and Guy (1993)


Written by... Mother Goose?

Illustrated by Maurice Sendak


Sendak has said in interviews that he is obsessed with Angels, ever since he was a child and had an angelic encounter of his own. He likes to incorporate them into his books in honor of his departed friends. Whereas the angels in Dear Mili are of the classic mould, the angels in We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy are seen doing nothing more romantic than reading the New York Times.
We Are All in the Dumps... was published in 1993, and in it Sendak returns to his usual cartoonish playfulness. The colors are bright and bold, the words are hand lettered and large (and rhyme!). The children are short and pudgy and have that Nutshell Kids way about them.
Here is the complete text:

We are all in the dumps, for diamonds are trumps, the kittens are gone to St. Pauls! The Baby is Bit, the moon’s in a fit, and the houses are built without walls.

Jack and Guy went out in the rye and the found a little boy with one black eye. “Come,” says Jack. “Let’s knock him on the head.” “No,” says Guy. “Let’s buy him some bread. You buy one loaf, and I’ll buy two, and we’ll bring him up as other folks do.”

If that sounds like a mother goose rhyme, that’s because it is. Two mother goose rhymes, completely unrelated, strung together and narratively linked by Mr. Sendak. This was an experiment he’d last done in 1965 with the book Hector Protector and As I Went Over the Water.
With these two nonsensical rhymes, Sendak was able to produce over fifty full-color pages of full, deep, rich and textured narrative illustration. Except, as fun as they first appear to be, the reader may be momentarily taken aback to realize that these fun cartoonish drawings are, in fact, homeless encampments populated by dirty, malnourished, barefoot children. There are no adults present. No authority figures. It’s as though Max from Where the Wild Things Are finally got his wish, only with disastrous, real-world consequences.
With this book, people have seen a message about AIDS. They have seen a message about homelessness and poverty, pollution and capitalism. It was suggested to me recently that it also works as a fable for gay adoption.
It could be all of those things and more. All I can say for sure is that after two monstrous rats straight out of E.T.A. Hoffman’s The Nutcracker (which Sendak illustrated in 1984) steal a young boy and whisk him away to a bread factory in middle of St. Paul, Minnesota, it is up to our heroes – the eponymous Jack and Guy – to rescue him. They play cards, the moon transforms into a glowing, ferocious cat, and then it begins to get pretty surreal.
The houses are built without walls. That’s the line that got Sendak, from which the rest of the story unfolded. He thought unwanted kids and of the shanty towns in Rio de Janeiro. As fanciful as the story gets, it uses this as its real-world baseline. The houses are built without walls.
I’ve read reviews from well-meaning parents warning against giving this book to children, as they found the social messages far too heavy-hitting. That’s bunk, of course. Arlo loved it, for it also works simultaneously as an adventure story, with every page filled with fantastic creatures and bizarre transformations, escapes and chases. For myself, I could appreciate those New York Times-reading angelic host, fluttering about the stratosphere, and the silent image of Jack and Guy removing the slumbering child from the surface of the moon, his arms outstretched and his head hung like Christ on a cross. There is a lot happening here for both grown-up and child to enjoy equally.
There were moments, however, which we could both share, and grow closer to each other’s worlds and perceptions.
That final page, for example, after the dramatic rescue, the adventure, the fantasia, after Jack and Guy return to their shanty town, curl up within their cardboard boxes and their newspaper-blankets, Arlo wanted to know why they didn’t just go home.
“Well,” I said. “This is their home. This is where they live.”
“No, their real home!”
“I guess there aren’t any real homes.”
He rolled his eyes. “Yes, there are! Look!” And he pointed to the large, stone monolithic highrise which overshadowed the tiny encampment, like something out of Stonehenge, only more so.

5.12.2012

Outside Over There (1981)

Written and Illustrated by Maurice Sendak

Harper Collins


Well, as everyone knows, Maurice Sendak is no more - at least in physical form. Two years ago I wrote a column for The Critical Masses about three Sendak books which are - perhaps - not as well known as some of his others. I thought I would reproduce them here, one at a time, beginning with one of my absolute favorite picture books of all time, Outside Over There (1981).

-
Outside Over There has a lot in common with a certain major cult film of yesteryear. It was in the back of my mind the first time I read it, years ago: I know this story. I’ve read this before. (This is a very common thought to have while reading children’s literature).
The elements of the book are these:
A young girl, Ida by name, forced to tend her unwanted and unwelcome baby sister.
The goblins, who sneak in through the rear window, carting off with baby sister and leaving – in her place – a changeling made of ice, melting slowly and hideously.
Armed only with her Mama’s yellow rain cloak and a golden hornpipe, Ida must find and retrieve said baby sister before the young one is married off in a wretched goblin ceremony.
Outside Over There was published a full five years before the Jim Henson film, Labyrinth. There are no shifting corridors in the Sendak tale, no immersive M.C. Escher environments, no pop singers in fright wigs and spandex, but the two share both plot-points and also tone.
In neither is there the usual grappling with the fantastic, but rather a matter-of-fact acceptance which somehow makes it all the more appalling. Ida, gripping the dripping remains of her sister’s changeling, immediately knows the score. She seems to have a pre-cognition of the rules of the game. Yes, the goblins came and will marry her sister off. Yes, the hornpipe must be blown. These are not presented as fantastic elements, but a part of the very real world which Ida seems to be inexplicably aware. Normally, we expect to identify with the main character, but when we realize that Ida knows more about this world than we do, she suddenly becomes as mysterious and other as the goblins themselves.
Is that too much? Have I overstated the case?
When I showed the book to Arlo, he immediately balked. “That looks dumb,” is how he put it.
I didn’t blame him. The cover shows Ida wearing a blue nightgown, holding hands with her baby sister. They are standing in the arbor of a garden, and the baby is reaching out a pink, pudgy hand toward a blooming sunflower, a look of wonder upon her face. Surely a charming, pastoral tale which I would most likely not want to get within a hundred feet of, were I a four-year old boy.
“Come on!” I prodded, opening the book. “Give it a chance!”
The title page is quite similar: Ida is now helping the baby take her first steps. Behind them is the white fence, nearly overgrown with majestic blooming sunflowers.
And off to the left-hand side, sitting hunched with knees drawn to its chest, sits a small, hooded figure, its face obscured by shadow.
Arlo stared at this image for a long time.
Then, “Read it,” he said.
The next page intensifies the scenario. We are still standing in front of the sunflower-strewn arbor. But now Ida clutches her baby sister to her more tightly, looking in wide-eyed concern as the seated goblin has now stood and three more identically hooded figures are approaching from stage right. One carries a ladder. One carries a hornpipe.
The story doesn’t properly begin until the following page:
“When Papa was away at sea, and Mama in the arbor, Ida played her wonder horn to rock the baby still – but never watched. So the goblins came.”
One clue that this is a Sendak book is the way he likes to spread out his sentences. Those opening two sentences are broken up into chunks and spread out over the course of 6 gorgeous, full color paintings which cram narrative information galore.
In these opening pages, a full day has passed. The sun has risen over a rocky coast, at which old, mighty ships are moored. Ida and her mother and baby sister stand with their backs to us, dresses rippling.
Next we are at the arbor, in which Ida’s mother sits with dark lines beneath her eyes, a dead look about her, not caring that her baby is now screaming in anguish, writhing in Ida’s arms. Papa has gone to sea – we can still see the boat in the background – and his absence has destroyed this family.
Off to the side, goblins scurry, still clutching their ladder.
Later that evening, Ida stands by her window, playing her horn as the sunflowers creep into her room. The baby nearly leaps out of her crib in joy, but that joy is short-lived. The goblins have pushed open the window, and as darkness falls, the baby is carted away, screaming in terror.
An entire world of story is contained within these drawings. Again, the narrative is simply this:
“When Papa was away at sea, and Mama in the arbor, Ida played her wonder horn to rock the baby still – but never watched. So the goblins came.”
Indeed.
Sendak considered this to be the third volume of a trilogy that began with Where the Wild Things Are(1963) and continuing with In the Night Kitchen (1970). They may not at first seem to have a great deal in common, but he says that they are all about moments in which a parent has turned their back and in that moment, the child must make a decision by themselves.
If you own the former two, you owe it to yourself to pick up this one as well. You may find that it casts Max and his wild things in a new light. And the next time you watch Labyrinth, look for it displayed prominently on Jennifer Connelly’s bookshelf near the beginning of the film.



5.31.2011

King Midas and the Golden Touch (1999)

Retold by Charlotte Craft

Illustrated by K.Y. Craft

Oil over watercolor

Text type is 14-point Adobe Bernhard Modern with 10-point leading

Book design by Mahlon F. Craft

Harper Collins

While the author looked to Nathaniel Hawthorne's retelling of the ancient Greek myth for inspiration, the illustrator has been influenced by other sources.

So writes the illustrator, employing the third person in a brief note at the onset of this beautiful edition of the classic myth, Kinuko Craft, who has surely bought her way into heaven with these stunning, elegant paintings which seem like artifacts from long ago, when illustrating classic myths was a task on par with designing castles and painting the ceiling of chapels.

"According to some scholars, the Phyrgian King Midas on whom our present-day version of the myth may have been based appears to have lived in the 8th century B.C.," she continues. "I chose to set the main stage for my paintings somewhere in the Middle Ages, through, to bring the take just a bit closer to our own century." But lest we think she wantonly inverted the myth for her own pleasure, she also informs us that "geometric motifs taken from artifacts discovered in the archaeological dig [of the burial site thought to be King Midas in Anatolia] were incorporated into some of the scenes." Well, I daresay that's the least she could do!

There are many stunning illustrations - the glowing visage of the angelic visitor appearing to Midas in his gold-filled dungeon. At first glance, it could be mistaken for the archangel appearing to certain shepherds. My favorite is the two-page wordless spread of Midas running maniacally down the winding staircase of his palace, everything behind him shining golden, as though the "golden touch" is a living virus spreading out - soon to encompass everything and everyone.

"Well, King Midas, are you not the happiest of men?"

"Oh, no! I am the most miserable of men!"

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...