Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Preserved in a letter written to a young girl, Mili, in 1816 and not discovered until 1983, the Grimm story is prefaced by a tender address in which he underscores the story's message: although there are many obstacles that can prevent people from being together, ``one human heart can go out to another, undeterred by what lies between.'' The story that follows implies that love transcends even death. Like many fairy tales, this one deals with extraordinary events. A widow sends her child into the forest to protect her from an approaching war. The girl is led by her guardian angel past menacing cliffs and chasms to the house of Saint Joseph with whom she lives for three days. Before she goes back to the village, Saint Joseph gives her a rosebud as a symbol of her return to paradise; when the girl reaches her home, she finds that the three days have been in reality 30 years. ``God has granted the widow's last wish'' to see her daughter once again. In the morning, mother and child are found dead, with Saint Joseph's rose ``in full bloom.'' Sendak's haunting interpretation of this stark tale is often more emotionally compelling than the story itself. Dear Mili is a variation on the themes of loss, separation and love that Sendak has explored before, most recently in Outside Over There . In the tradition of 19th century Sunday school literature, the plot and language of the text are often predictable and obviously preachy. For example, after Mili's long journey and prayer, a cleansing rain falls: ``God and my heart are weeping together,'' she says. In an attempt to transcend the limitations of the religious story, Sendak infuses it with images that are both nonsectarian and universal. Trees and roots in the valley of death become grasping, whitened bones scattered beneath an outline reminiscent of buildings at Auschwitz. The images are rich: dark clouds of war are etched with claws of yellow fire, and paradise is filled not only with music, but with lush flowers that burst, like those of Van Gogh or O'Keeffe, with passionate life. The volume may have more appeal for adults than for children, but nonetheless it contains unforgettable artwork of resonant power. Michael di Capua Books. All ages. (Oct.)
Children's Literature - Mary Sue Preissner
Sendak's full page, Old World illustrations bring one of Grimm's tales to life. In reading a Grimm tale, we must remember that not all tales end happily, and that many of these are actually grim, as is this one. Some current readers may object to the "Saint Joseph" part of this tale, but keep in mind that religion has played a big part in the lives of people, especially during Grimm's lifetime. 1995 (orig.
School Library Journal
K-Gr 3 This is a problematic book: a potent combination of compelling pictures and a seriously disturbing text. Although the discovery of the tale in 1983 made front-page news, there is little novelty or originality to it. The story, found in a letter of 1816, is a pastiche of several ``religious tales.'' When war approaches, a widowed mother sends her beloved little daughter, protected by a guardian angel, into the forest, trusting God to bring her back in three days. The intrepid girl encounters St. Joseph, dutifully does what she is bid, shares her cake, and plays with the angel (now a doppel-ganger ). On the third day the angel-double leads her home, where she finds an ``old, old woman''her mother. In those 3 days, 30 years have passed, and the mother has suffered fear and misery during a great war, while mourning the daughter whom she believed dead. Mother and child happily spend the evening together, go to bedand are found dead in the morning. Separation, fear, violence, and even death are familiar elements in Grimms' tales: what is unsettling here is the treatment, the unanticipated mixture of fairy tale, realism, and religion. Our firm expectationsthat the child will be safeguarded by her mother's love, by God's Providence, and by her own staunch goodnessare brutally undermined by the ending. Publishing this pious parable as a picture book for children in 1988 makes W. Grimm look like a macabre forerunner of O. Henry. The pictures only compound the problem. Stunningly beautiful, in Sendak's elaborate neo-19th-Century style, packed with ``high art'' touches, their Romantic grace, cozy cottages, and abundant flowers all reinforce our feelings of security. Although the story hints strongly that when the heroine finds St. Joseph she is actually in Heaven, the setting offers no clarification on this point. The gorgeous art and the names Sendak and Grimm guarantee that this book will be requested. Warned by librarians and booksellers, parents might at least choose to modify or omit the last few lines at bedtime readings. Patricia Dooley, University of Washington, Seattle
Read an Excerpt
I’m sure you have gone walking in the woods or in green meadows, and passed a clear, flowing brook. And you’ve tossed a flower into the brook, a red one, a blue one, or a snow-white one. It drifted away, and you followed it with your eyes as far as you could. And it went quietly away with the little waves, farther and farther, all day long and all night too, by the light of the moon or the stars. It didn’t need much light, for it knew the way and it didn’t get lost. When it had traveled for three days without stopping to rest, another flower came along on another brook. A child like you, but far far away from here, had tossed it into a brook at the same time. The two flowers kissed, and went their way together and stayed together until they both sank to the bottom. You have also seen a little bird flying away over the mountain in the evening. Perhaps you thought it was going to bed; not at all, another little bird was flying over other mountains, and when all was dark on the earth, the two of them met in the last ray of sunshine. The sun shone bright on their feathers, and as they flew back and forth in the light they told each other many things that we on the earth below could not hear. You see, the brooks and the flowers and the birds come together, but people do not; great mountains and rivers, forests and meadows, cities and villages lie in between, they have their set places and cannot be moved, and humans cannot fly. But one human heart goes out to another, undeterred by what lies between. Thus does my heart go out to you, and though my eyes have not seen you yet, it loves you and thinks it is sitting beside you. And you say: “Tell me a story.” And it replies: “Yes, dear Mili, just listen.”