Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Let's read my master's school essay about Maurice Sendak!

Because "Where the Wild Things Are" made me think of it, of course, and because I was lucky enough to find it on the first backup CD I took out of the filing cabinet (trust me, this is very impressive.)
I don't think I mentioned this before, but I have my Master's Degree in Education, with a focus on children's media. Basically, this means you can trust me when I recommend a work of fiction directed at children. With your life.
Anyway, what you're about to read is one of the many essays that comprised my thesis project. (The thesis itself is about four inches thick.) I was assigned to write a biography on a significant figure in the world of children's fiction and Sendak turned out to be one of the most fascinating people in the field. Today, I'm posting the bibliography and biography, and the next post will have book reviews and whatever else didn't fit here.
Final draft originally "published" 5-1-2005.

Children’s Books Written and Illustrated by Maurice Sendak:
* Grimm, Wilhelm. (1988). Dear Mili (Ralph Manheim, Trans.). New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. (Original story written 1816).
* Kushner, Tony. (2003). Brundibar. New York: Michael di Capua Books.
* Sendak, Maurice. (1960). The Sign on Rosie’s Door. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers.
* Sendak, Maurice. (1963). Where the Wild Things Are. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.
* Sendak, Maurice. (1965). Hector Protector and As I Went Over the Water. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers.
* Sendak, Maurice. (1967). Higglety Pigglety POP! -or- There Must Be More to Life. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.
* Sendak, Maurice. (1970). In the Night Kitchen. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers.
* Sendak, Maurice and Margolis, Matthew. (1976). Some Swell Pup -or- Are You Sure You Want a Dog? New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
* Sendak, Maurice. (1981). Outside Over There. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers.
* Sendak, Maurice. (1993). We Are All In the Dumps With Jack and Guy. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.

Other Books
* Jones, J. Sydney. (2000). Sendak, Maurice Bernard. In Alan Hedblad (Managing Ed.), Something About the Author (Vol. 113) (160-169). Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, Inc.
* Lanes, Selma G. (1980). The Art of Maurice Sendak. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.
* Sendak, Maurice. (1970). Fantasy Sketches. Philadelphia, PA: The Meriden Gravure Company
* Sendak, Maurice. (1988). Caldecott and Co. Notes on Books & Pictures. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
* Zinsser, William (Ed.). (1998). Worlds of Childhood: the Art and Craft of Writing for Children. New York: Houghton Mifflin Co.

Articles and Films
* Maguire, Gregory. (2003). A Sendak Appreciation. The Horn Book Magazine, Vol. 79, 667-682.
* Marcus, Leonard S. (2003). Where the Wild Things Are. The Horn Book Magazine, Vol. 79, 703-706.
* Sutton, Roger. (2003). An Interview With Maurice Sendak. The Horn Book Magazine, Vol. 79, 687-699.
* Deitch, Gene (Writer/Director). (1987). In the Night Kitchen [Motion Picture]. Weston, CT: Weston Woods.
* Fleming, Victor (Director), Langely, Noel (Writer), & LeRoy, Mervyn (Producer). (1939). The Wizard of OZ [Motion Picture]. Hollywood, CA: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
* Luske, Hamilton & Sharpsteen, Ben (Directors), Battaglia, Aurelius (Writer), & Disney, Walter (Producer). (1940). Pinocchio [Motion Picture]. Hollywood, CA: Walt Disney Motion Pictures.
* Sendak, Maurice (Writer/Director), & Riss, Sheldon (Producer). (1976). Maurice Sendak’s *Really Rosie* [Motion Picture]. Los Angeles, CA: Wood Knapp Video.
* Schindel, Morton (Producer). (1985). Getting to Know Maurice Sendak [Motion Picture]. Weston, CT: Weston Woods.

"We'll Eat You Up, We Love You So" - The Worlds of Maurice Sendak
One of Maurice Sendak's earliest memories from his childhood was a cold February day in 1940; the day his older sister took him into town to see the Disney film, "Pinocchio". Although they arrived late, and missed the first twenty minutes, Sendak was enthralled. This movie was imaginative, scary, and poignant. And best of all it was smart enough to understand what life was really like from a child's point of view. It respected the fact that childhood is full of happiness and wonder, and that it is just as often frightening and upsetting. It immediately became one of Sendak's all-time favorite films.
When Sendak was a teenager, he decided to read the original Carlo Collodi novel, which inspired the Disney film. He was stunned by what he read.
Disney's Pinocchio is an innocent fool-hero; he runs into trouble without meaning to do so. But the original, printed page Pinocchio is a nasty little brat from the very beginning. Worse yet, he is told, over and over, that the only way to redeem himself is to fully obey all of the adults without question. The punishments given to Pinocchio when he refuses to obey are astonishingly cruel.
Maurice Sendak was appalled. Here was a story written by somebody who clearly didn't understand young children at all. Or else, the author hated children and thought they were malicious by their very nature. In either case, Collodi clearly believed that children needed to be frightened into behaving nicely all the time. (Sendak, 1988)
This was an important turning point in Sendak's career as a writer for children. He vowed that no matter what, he would respect his young audience on their own terms, and he would never, ever talk down to them. For this reason, Maurice Sendak is inarguably one of our generation's most important writers for children.
Maurice Bernard Sendak was born on June 10, 1928 in Brooklyn, New York. His parents were both immigrants, both from small Jewish neighborhoods outside Warsaw, who had come to America from Poland some time before World War I. Maurice was five years younger than his brother Jack and nine years younger than his sister, Natalie.
As a child, Maurice Sendak never enjoyed good health. When he was very young, he fell ill from both measles and double pneumonia, and was bedridden for thirteen weeks. His parents worried ceaselessly about Maurice's chances for survival… within the boy's earshot.
It seems they took for granted that little Maurice wouldn't understand what was going on, but they were very wrong. "…My parents were indiscreet enough to bewail my sickliness and carry on about how long I'd be around. I learned early on that it was a chancy business, being alive… We don't like to think of kids worrying about such things but of course they do. They have no choice, if they're intelligent and sensitive and alive to what's happening in the world." (Sendak, 1988, p 209-210)
Since he wasn't allowed to go outside and play very often, Maurice often had to entertain himself. His happiest memories of boyhood are of creating stories with his father and his older brother. Jack would write the stories down and Maurice would draw pictures to go along with them on sheets of cardboard. He still lists these books as the official first entries in his career-spanning bibliography. Not coincidentally, Jack became an author as an adult, and he has collaborated with his brother on a few books.
Although he wasn't often allowed to go outside to play, Maurice did have something very important and fun to look forward to every week: his family's Friday night trips to the movies. Sometimes, they would go into New York City to go out for a special dinner, and afterwards they'd see a film. New York itself enthralled young Maurice, but it was the movies that had the most profound influence on his work as an adult.
"If I'd been a Renaissance child and had lived in Rome, I could have gone down the block and seen Michelangelo working on the Sistine Chapel, and I would have been a much more enlightened and tasteful human being. But since I was a Brooklyn kid, there was only the Kingsway Theater and you made shift." (Sendak, 1988, p. 212-213) Sendak's favorite films as a child were the aforementioned "Pinocchio", and "the Wizard of OZ", "King Kong", the Busby Berkeley musicals, and the Laurel and Hardy comedies. He also spent a great deal of time reading comic books, and especially loved the lavishly illustrated fantasy stories of Windsor McKay. These books and movies would all be directly referenced in Sendak's three personal favorite books: Where the Wild Things Are, In the Night Kitchen, and Outside, Over There.
Maurice Sendak's books speak directly to children, and to the child within every adult. His characters are spunky heroines and sassy heroes who are far more emotionally complicated than the literary characters in many books for adults. In many ways, Sendak's characters are incarnations of himself: wildly imaginative people who aren't usually understood by other, more sensible people. Other people don't appreciate the Sendak heroes' use of imagination and their emotional intensity.
This is very important, because there seems to be a movement nowadays to shield children from anything that might upset them. The trend isn't exactly new, but the magnitude and intensity of it lately has become downright alarming. Children today are treated as delicately as porcelain dolls. They aren't allowed to play Tag during recess because it's too exciting and competitive. Teachers are told not to use red pens while correcting papers, because it might hurt their students' feelings.
What Sendak does in his best books is acknowledge something that these well-meaning adults have overlooked: Kids aren't stupid. They are amazingly perceptive and can handle the issues and ideas that many adults would rather shield them from.
"Children are extremely tough - they know exactly what's going to frighten their parents, and they don't ask questions that will upset mommy and daddy... you don't want to give them ulcers with questions they can't deal with. So you find out in the backyard, or from the landlady's daughter. But you do find out. Even before television, you found out. Isn't it kinder to give children the bitter pill in a work of art?" (Sendak, 1998, p. 23)
Maurice Sendak legitimizes the unspoken concerns of children. He deeply understands that every child faces fears and disappointments, happiness and wonder, and his books are celebrations of the imagination.
On to Part Two!
And head over to The Realm and enjoy a gallery of bizarre cheap Halloween costumes. Meanwhile, in real life, I am hopefully planting those spring bulbs I mentioned before...

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