Pin It

RSS Subscribe

Maurice Sendak – My Brother’s Book

"My Brother's Book"

Who stomped through your childhood, growling cantankerously, hiding, and sulking and being rowdy by turns? For me, the answer is some combination of either Fungus The Bogeyman, or Father Christmas as immortalised by Raymond Briggs; or a Wild Thing, imagined by Maurice Sendak. It’s funny, now I come to think about it, that both the British and American authors, working at around the same time, came up with these hugely enduring anti-heroes for children’s books.

I loved catching Raymond Briggs on Blue Peter a decade ago announcing he was “a miserable git”. It turns out he is the personification of Father Christmas: the Victor Meldrew of illustrators, grumpy and complaining. Who says children’s authors have to be smiley and jolly?

Maurice Sendak died earlier this year, and I was unexpectedly sad. I remembered all his books, the intonation as they were read to me, and how I’d read them myself to my brother and sister, with the emphasis in all the same places. When I read the obituaries though, there was one thing that cheered me up. Sendak had been just as grumpy as Briggs!

Of course, you couldn’t really expect the man who made those rumpus monsters and the naughtily naked Mickey from “In The Night Kitchen”, which caused a small shocked furore when it came out, to be less than complex, and Sendak was. The son of Jewish immigrants, he grew up in poverty and constant illness, with a large, well intentioned but nevertheless rather intimidatingly rambunctious family – on whom he says he based many of his characters. He was also gay, and has said in interviews that he wished more than anything to be straight – despite having a partner, Eugene Glynne, the love of his life for more than 50 years, he said his parents “Never, never knew“.

Image from "My Brother's Book"The book is entitled “My Brother’s Book” and it commemorates his brother, Jack, who taught him to draw and died 18 years ago. Indeed, it tells the story of two brothers, separated as a falling star hits the earth. But it is also clearly a eulogy to Eugene, whose prolonged illness and eventual loss in 2007 devastated Sendak. The artist’s style was ever evolving, and this work has none of hard inking and crosshatching of The Wild Things. It’s executed in fluid watercolour, some panels recalling William Blake, always a huge influence, others something like Arthur Rackham. It’s not childish, but then, it isn’t a children’s book. The text is written in verse inspired by Shakespeare, Blake, Keats, and the music of Mozart. It’s a beautiful piece, a fitting send off for both Sendak and Glynne, ending, rather poignantly:

Image from "My Brother's Book"

“And Jack slept safe
Enfolded in his brother’s arms
And Guy whispered ‘Good night
And you will dream of me.”

Release date: February 5, 2013

About Genevieve