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I posted a YouTube video earlier today of Tell Them Anything You Want, a 40-minute documentary on Maurice Sendak who died earlier today. The video has been taken down, but not before I managed to transcribe the author and illustrator’s parting thoughts on his work and life:
I did some very good books, which mostly is an isolationist form of life – doing books, doing pictures. And it’s the only true happiness I’ve ever, ever enjoyed in my life. It’s sublime to just go into another room and make pictures. It’s magic time where all your weaknesses of character, and all blemishes of personality, and whatever else torments you fades away, just doesn’t matter.
You’re doing the one thing you want to do and you do it well, and you know you do it well, and you’re happy. The whole promise is to do the work, sitting down at a drawing table, turning on the radio. And I think, “what a transcendent life this is that I’m doing everything I want to do.”
At that moment I feel like I’m a lucky man. I’m trying very hard to concentrate on what is here, what I can see, what I can smell, what I can feel – making that the important business of life. Just looking out the window at the colours that I see, reading Charles Dickens at night for an hour, little rituals I have of listening to Mozart. I’m learning how not to take myself so seriously, that what I’m working on, what I’d like to work on, it’s not earthshakingly important anymore. I am not earthshakingly important.
So what am I saying? I’m just clearing the decks for a simple death. You’re done with your work, you’re done with your life. And your life was your work.
I think what I’ve offered was different. But not because I drew better than anybody, or wrote better than anybody, but because I was more honest than anybody. And in the discussion of children, and the lives of children, and the fantasies of children, and the language of children, I said anything I wanted, because I don’t believe in children. I don’t believe in childhood. I don’t believe there’s a demarcation of “you mustn’t tell them this, you mustn’t tell them that.” You tell them anything you want. Just tell them if it’s true. If it’s true, you tell them.
I have adult thoughts in my head, experiences, but I’m never going to talk about them. I’m never going to write about that. Why is my needle stuck in childhood? I don’t know. I don’t know. I guess that’s where my heart is.
The National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature (phew!) is currently showing the work of award-winning illustrator Dan Yaccarino. I’ve always been a big fan of Dan’s work, especially since his style transfers into animation so well (he’s created and/or designed Oswald the Octopus, The Backyardigans and Willa’s Wild Life). His children’s books are well-received internationally, with the most recent titles being The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau (above), All the Way to America: The Story of a Big Italian Family And A Little Shovel and Boy and Bot. The show will be up until the end of May.
Henri’s Walk To Paris, by Leonore Klein and illustrated by Saul Bass. I first mentioned this here several months back, and it’s now available. First published in 1962, this was Bass’s only children’s book that he illustrated. I’ve written up a review on my blog, if you’re curious.
The colors and spreads look amazing. Universe has done a great job in ensuring that the printing match the original edition, which, if you can believe it, was released exactly 50 years ago. (Universe also reissue M. Sasek’s This Is… Series.) Well worth the wait.