Harper Collins £18.99
Picture book review: My Brother's Book, By Maurice Sendak
'Goodbye, my brother,' the old master said
Saturday 09 March 2013
Maurice Sendak, America's foremost children's illustrator, died last year at the age of 83. Sickly and frequently bedridden when young, he later described his Brooklyn childhood as "that terrible time". Subject to the detested attentions of various visiting relations, whom he later transformed into the monsters in Where the Wild Things Are, he spent long hours watching healthier children play outside. But there were pleasures too – in particular reading comics, and illustrating the stories written by his older brother Jack.
This last picture book is the artist's farewell to that same brother, a far more occasional children's writer, who died in 1995. Written shortly after the event, Sendak only added the illustrations when he knew his own time was short. It starts with two brothers, Jack and Guy, sharing the same dream, and ends with each enfolded in the other's arms. A series of tangled and obscure adventures in between is framed by references to The Winter's Tale. This play's theme of loss and eventual reunion was especially poignant for Sendak in old age, grieving both for his brother and for Dr Eugene Glynn, his psychoanalyst partner of 50 years, who died in 2007.
Abandoning the ferocious cross-hatching found in his earlier work, Sendak this time turned to watercolours, better suited to an increasingly shaky hand and fading sight. The end results are reminiscent of his hero William Blake, and new ground for an artist still capable of springing surprises. Familiar Sendak characters also appear, from naked youths – attacked in previous picture books by mean-minded critics as "inappropriate" – to a vast bear who shows his affection by wanting to eat whoever he is talking to.
Love and menace were often linked in Sendak's imagination, along with the idea of finally arriving at a safe haven, but only after surviving perils along the way.
With both text and illustrations packed with images that defy easy understanding, this book offers a journey into an extraordinary imagination. Not really designed to be read through at one sitting, it is directed more towards a child's intuitive acceptance of how the everyday can walk hand in hand with the surreal. Each re-reading reveals something new as the old master bids adieu, not just to the brother who meant so much to him but to all his readers as well.
TV reviewBroadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair
Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere
TVThe Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Migrant crisis: Greek soldier saved 20 people singlehandedly off Rhodes beach
- 2 Frank Lampard's face drops when Holly Willoughby introduces him as a 'Man City legend'
- 3 UK weather: Britain braced for snow as arctic air mass moves in
- 4 Aaron and Melissa Klein: Oregon anti-gay bakers ordered to pay $135,000 after refusing to make cake for same-sex wedding
- 5 General Election 2015: Stephen Hawking says he will vote Labour
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Aaron and Melissa Klein: Oregon anti-gay bakers ordered to pay $135,000 after refusing to make cake for same-sex wedding
Andrew Lloyd Webber: Phantom of the Opera writer mocked after issuing a warning about Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon
General election 2015: Labour will toughen hate crimes legislation surrounding Islamophobia
HSBC review into moving headquarters from UK 'underway'