- Sendak & Co.
Maurice Sendak is probably the most perceptive and articulate writer on book illustration that we have. In part—obviously—this comes from his experience as a master of the art itself. He knows better than most of us the quality of "muscular rhythm" that an illustrator must impart to his work, and also how "damned difficult" that is. In addition, though, Sendak is steeped in an historical awareness of his subject—capable of relating the craftsmanship of Arthur Hughes or the beguiling simplicities of William Nicholson to modern practice—and he possesses a surging enthusiasm for it. He is generous in his praise for students and colleagues who have a "vital and serious approach" to their work, and he is on the side of the child's imagination against the constraints imposed by so many of today's educators and moralists.
All those characteristics (and my quoted examples) can be found in the "Conversation with Walter Lorraine" that has been edited from the Wilson Library Bulletin of October 1977 into pp. 185-193 of Caldecott & Co. Along with 31 other pieces it goes to make up a compendium of Sendak's obiter dicta on things that have cropped up in his working life. There are reviews, mostly for Book Week or the New York Times Book Review; there are introductions to publications, sometimes by other people, such as Justin Schiller's catalogue of the Meggendorfer Archive, sometimes by himself, such as the Fantasy Sketches of 1970 and the [End Page 152] Pictures of 1971 ; and there are interviews and award acceptance speeches, including the justly celebrated Caldecott Medal acceptance of 1964.
From almost every one of these fugitive essays there is something to be gleaned. Sometimes there may be a simple aside (like the remark that the movies of Pinocchio and The Wizard of Oz "are superior to the 'classics' that inspired them"); sometimes there may be a more sustained probing of ideas (most notably in the Caldecott pieces and the Lorraine interview); and all through the collection there is the artist's preoccupation with himself: the relationship of confused childhood to creative adulthood, the candid expression of personal reactions, the ex cathedra judgments of experience.
Because Sendak's intense and diverse artistry is itself so fascinating, and because these secondary observations can be related to it so closely, their publication in book form ought to be welcomed. (For some readers of The Lion and Unicorn the book could also permit the abandonment of tattered files of photocopies.) At the same time though there is room for regret that Mr. Sendak's sensitivity and intelligence as a critic should be represented by what is really a piece of opportunistic book-making. For although Caldecott & Co. is stuffed full of quotable insights, they are, in this form, essentially journalistic and random. (The designation "Notes" in the sub-title is the give-away—a defensive reflex, requiring us not to expect too much from the famous name subscribed below.)
In fact, when you come to examine the editorial process through which Caldecott & Co. has passed, you begin to see that the journalistic nature of the enterprise posed some problems (and that perhaps the tattered photocopies should not be thrown away after all). For in a number of instances, despite the bland inclusion of "Notes on First Publication," what you get here is a much modified version of the original. For instance, chunks are sliced out of the introduction to The Randolph Caldecott Treasury (1978) and out of the interview with Virginia Haviland—chiefly because Mr. Sendak is found repeating verbatim phrases and examples that figure in other essays included in the book. And in the review of "Mother Goose" there are not only changes in phrasing (e...