My Brother's Book

Overview

Fifty years after Where the Wild Things Are was published comes the last book Maurice Sendak completed before his death in May 2012, My Brother's Book. With influences from Shakespeare and William Blake, Sendak pays homage to his late brother, Jack, whom he credited for his passion for writing and drawing. Pairing Sendak's poignant poetry with his exquisite and dramatic artwork, this book redefines what mature readers expect from Maurice Sendak while continuing the lasting legacy he created over his long, ...

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Overview

Fifty years after Where the Wild Things Are was published comes the last book Maurice Sendak completed before his death in May 2012, My Brother's Book. With influences from Shakespeare and William Blake, Sendak pays homage to his late brother, Jack, whom he credited for his passion for writing and drawing. Pairing Sendak's poignant poetry with his exquisite and dramatic artwork, this book redefines what mature readers expect from Maurice Sendak while continuing the lasting legacy he created over his long, illustrious career. Sendak's tribute to his brother is an expression of both grief and love and will resonate with his lifelong fans who may have read his children's books and will be ecstatic to discover something for them now. Pulitzer Prize–winning literary critic and Shakespearean scholar Stephen Greenblatt contributes a moving introduction.

A New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Book of 2013

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times - Dwight Garner
This lovely if evanescent book—it deals with the great Sendakian themes of loss, danger and flight…contains some of Sendak's richest and most incantatory language…it's a book that rewards repeat readings. Its charms are simmering and reflective ones…Sendak's drawings in My Brother's Book have lost none of their surreal, unsettling potency.
Publishers Weekly
To say "Sendak" is to conjure up busy pages of bossy children, oversize creatures, and small rooms filled with homely furniture. His final work is absent of all of these. Instead, a series of small, jewel-like watercolors shows two brothers, lithe as acrobats, floating through a desolate world of murky forests and starry skies. The brothers' names are Jack and Guy. Sendak's beloved older brother, Jack, the brother of the title, died in 1995. (The two also share their names with the homeless brothers in We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy.) In this story, Guy is Sendak's stand-in, and his journey to the underworld is an allegory of Sendak's own approaching death and the fraternal reunion for which he longed. In order to find Jack, Guy must offer himself to Death, a huge, slavering polar bear whose massive paws hold him fast. He slips into the great beast's mouth, "Diving through time so vast—sweeping past paradise!" and arrives at last in a clearing where Jack lies imprisoned, like Ariel from The Tempest, "Deep-buried in veiled blossoms." The brothers are permitted one brief exchange before their tranquil end: "Jack slept safe,/ Enfolded in his brother's arms." The scale of the work is compact, but its antecedents are noble. Guy's conversation with the bear ("Come on then! Give it quick in mine ear!") gestures toward the sweet exchange between mother and son from The Winter's Tale, but the gently teasing lines are darkened by the bear's menace and Guy's fear. The paintings, with their luminous colors and weightless forms, suggest Blake's—especially his illustrations for Milton's Paradise Lost—while the taut verse recalls, in places, Emily Dickinson's. The start of Guy's riddle plays on Sendak's own Chicken Soup with Rice: "In February it will be/ My snowghost's anniversary." To read this intensely private work is to look over the artist's shoulder as he crafts his own afterworld, a place where he lies in silent embrace with those he loves forever. (Feb.)
Booklist
Distinguished by its pervasive sense of longing and informed by extraordinary art—some of Sendak’s most beautiful—My Brother’s Book is a celebration of the enduring love of two brothers. Inviting reading and rereading, Sendak’s tribute to his brother is also a final tribute to his own genius.
Booklist (starred review)
Distinguished by its pervasive sense of longing and informed by extraordinary art—some of Sendak’s most beautiful—My Brother’s Book is a celebration of the enduring love of two brothers. Inviting reading and rereading, Sendak’s tribute to his brother is also a final tribute to his own genius.
VOYA - Judith Hayn
Maurice Sendak's posthumous and final book appears as an elegy for his brother Jack, who was the inspiration for the author's illustrious career. It can also be seen as an homage for Sendak's partner of fifty years, Eugene Glynn. The book is a flight of lyrical fancy that is, at once, harsh and yet celebratory. The story definitely requires more than one reading to even begin to understand the implications of the somewhat limited plotline and the elaborate, muted drawings. Two brothers, Guy and Jack, are separated by a star crashing to earth, and both are ejected from paradise. Jack remains stuck in a frozen realm while Guy tumbles into a voracious polar bear's den. Only when Guy is finally eaten, can he rejoin his brother somewhere beyond both places. According to Stephen Greenblatt's forward, the poem alludes to Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale with its images of evil and violence that threaten to destroy Jack and Guy. These themes, of course, permeate Sendak's children's books and continue here, when the brothers are reunited in safety wrapped in each other's arms. The illustrations are as strange and eerie as the tale itself; therefore, the text is not for young fans. Even older adolescents will find little here to remind them of the pleasure Sendak gave to them in other works, but the slim volume has its power as the last gift readers will receive from this multi-talented, extraordinary, and celebrated author. Reviewer: Judith Hayn
Children's Literature - Carlee Hallman
In poetry and with pictures, Sendak embraces memories of his brother. The brothers become separated, Jack to a realm of ice where his nose freezes, and Guy to Bohemia and the lair of a bear. Guy offers a riddle to the bear who wants to eat him. Guy whispers to the bear, dives into the bear's maw, and lands in a springtime world. A meadow bird's song tells Guy about a boy entwined by a wild cherry tree. Guy discovers a cherry tree with Jack rooted in it. Guy bites Jack's nose and releases him. "And his arms, as branches will, Wound round his noble-hearted brother, Who he loves more than his own self." Jack sleeps enfolded in his brother's arms. Guy whispers that Jack will dream of him. The painting shows the two brothers entwined in sleep. A forward by Stephen Greenblatt draws parallels to work by Shakespeare. This tribute to Sendak's dead brother was published posthumously by Sendak's estate; Sendak died on May 8, 2012. Reviewer: Carlee Hallman
Library Journal
Published by HarperCollins's children's division but for all ages, this last book completed by the Caldecott Award winner before his death blends poetry and artwork to honor his late brother, Jack, also a children's book author. Lots of promotion, including a special teacher/librarian blog feature; the 200,000-copy first printing is no surprise.
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up—In Sendak's final opus, as in his life, a youth yearns to be with his beloved brother. A cosmic cataclysm has divided them, leaving Jack ensconced in "iced eternity." Guy is prepared to join him-whatever the risk. While this sounds dire, the author's synthesis of ideas from a wide span of literature and art, combined with exquisitely illuminated scenes, conveys instead a quest in which the ultimate sacrifice leads to complete fulfillment. Free-verse narration accommodates the breadth of referents. The Winter's Tale inspires a dialogue that occurs after Guy has floated into Bohemia, where his body is inserted, head first, into a bear's gigantic jaws (minus the violence in Goya's similarly posed Saturn Devouring His Children). Sendak softens the potential terror with a proposition from the protagonist: his life for an answer to a winter riddle: "In February it will be/My snowghost's anniversary/…Bear!-Tell me!-Whither?-Where?" Guy then "slipped into the [bear's] maw" and dissolved "into springtime." The bear is a complex character that uses strong language, yet his final stance suggests a capacity for gentleness. Stylistically, the three-quarter-page paintings reveal the artist's admiration for Samuel Palmer (a student of William Blake), particularly in the tender conclusion: two figures in peaceful repose under a leaf-drenched landscape, streams of dazzling watercolor erupting before a glow that warms the once-frozen setting. The frontispiece version of this scene indicates that the story is "…two brothers, dreaming the same dream." One last example of Sendak's daring, poignant, mysterious storytelling.—Wendy Lukehart, Washington DC Public Library
Kirkus Reviews
In his last finished work, Sendak tips a cap to intellectual and artistic influences, but he puts his own unique stamp on a lyrical flight that looks toward a reunion with Jack, his long-dead brother. As vivid and surreal as a dream, the narrative begins with the separation of Jack—catapulted to "continents of ice" where "[h]is poor nose froze"—and Guy, who lands "[o]n soft Bohemia" to be consumed by a hulking bear after posing his brother's fate as a "sad riddle." "Diving through time so vast—sweeping past paradise," Guy emerges at last into a mystical springtime where he finds Jack entwined in roots and "veiled blossoms." Guy bites Jack's nose "to be sure" and hearing his brother's sighed "Just lost—when I am saved!" enfolds him tenderly, whispering "Good night / And you will dream of me." In the small, loosely brushed paintings on each facing page, he depicts the brothers, reminiscent of William Blake's diaphanously gowned figures. Befitting the surreal textual imagery, they float in twisted postures amid stars and organic billows of moonlit clouds and landscape or lie together beneath canopies of greenery. The literary references (to Shakespeare, Keats, Emily Dickinson and others) may escape many, but they are secondary to the book's impact. The sharply felt humor and yearning that infuse both the verbal and visual narratives will kindle profound emotional responses in hearts of any age. (introduction by Stephen Greenblatt) (Illustrated poem. All ages)
The Barnes & Noble Review

When I heard the news of Maurice Sendak's death, I felt the stricken, heartsick sadness normally reserved for family and friends. Mr. Sendak, a stranger to me, was of course neither — and he was both. Winner of, among other honors, the 1964 Caldecott Medal, the 1970 Hans Christian Andersen Award, and a National Medal of Arts, Sendak has famously insisted that he never set out to write books for children. "I write, and somebody says, 'That's for children,' " he told Stephen Colbert in a television interview.

No one should claim that his posthumous work, My Brother's Book, is for children. Let me make that clear from the outset. This is not a children's book. Most kids would be bored and bewildered by it, stirred and vaguely disturbed. Being a bona fide former child myself, that was my own first reaction. The text, with its Shakespearean undertones, confused me. The images looked eerie and both too much like and too much unlike William Blake. But that was only a first, foolish impression — my own dimwitted attempt to force the book into being something it was not: intended for children.

My Brother's Book is a beautiful, evanescent elegy, composed about Sendak himself and his late brother, Jack — who here stands for all of Sendak's beloveds, including his late partner of fifty years, Eugene Glynn. (Aptly enough, Glynn was both an art critic and a psychiatrist for the young.) I use the word composed deliberately, for all of Sendak's best work was musical and strongly rhythmical, "a kind of muscular rhythm," as he once described it. The book echoes language from Shakespeare's Winter's Tale, a play of love, loss, jealousy, and imagination run amok. That play contains Shakespeare's most famous stage direction: "Exit, pursued by a bear." The note could not be more apt.

At the start of My Brother's Book, the two brothers, Jack and Guy, are torn apart "on a bleak midwinter's night" by a meteoric event, the death of Jack. Guy is left alone to mourn and plummet back into the land of the living. There he's met by the terrifying figure of a fierce white bear who threatens to "kill his breath / And eat him — bite by bite." Defiantly, Guy offers himself as sacrifice, if the bear will only answer his "sad riddle." Where has Jack gone, these "Five years in iced eternity. / Bear! — Tell me! — Whither? — Where?" This is the turning point in My Brother's Book. Sendak's paintings are dominated by images of falling and freezing — till Jack defies the bear. An almost visible melting follows, washed in shades of gold and green, and at last the figures begin to rise.

The bear, godlike in response to Guy (echoing, among other things, Dante's Inferno and the Book of Job), creates a whirlwind, scatters himself skyward into the Ursa Major constellation — but Guy slips inside the godhead, "Diving through time so vast — sweeping past paradise!" and finds his lost brother. The pair have a Sendakian reunion — Guy can't resist biting his brother's nose, just to be sure he's real, and Jack can't help sighing at being awakened. Jack has become one with the "blossoming gold from a new sun," entwined with "a wild cherry tree dusted pink."

In this cosmic game of hide-and-seek the brothers are at last reunited. Jack forgives Guy for finding him. "And his arms, as branches will, / Wound round his noble-hearted brother, / Who he loves more than his own self."

Sendak claimed to have been terrified of death all his life. He had the kind of sickly childhood that tends to form great artists. (Robert Louis Stevenson was another, along with Edvard Munch, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Proust.) Small wonder that so many of his young heroes and heroines face death, whether they laugh in its face or flee. Max terrifies and rules the Wild Things that menace him. Ida rescues her baby brother from the ice goblins of Outside Over There, and Pierre, who famously "doesn't care," lightly flings himself into the lion's mouth. This is not new territory for Sendak, but he newly mints it in the absolute conviction with which he throws himself into his eternal themes. If there is a message to the book it is that some things are worth dying for, including love.

Most readers will be immediately aware of Blake's influence, which hovers over every page My Brother's Book. But what I first saw as a blurred and watery reflection of the plates in Innocence & Experience is a deliberate erasure — like Cézanne's vanishing pears and apples painted at the end of his life. The things we love disappear. Here they are, disappearing, and yet we love them. That seems to be the undercurrent of Sendak's valedictory last book: as in Shakespeare's last great work, The Tempest, the magician drowns his book.

During his life, Sendak wrote and delivered brilliant insights — published in Caldecott & Co. — on the artists he admired most. Nearly everything he wrote of them is equally true of himself. On Blake: "The intensely personal images seem the very embodiment of his poetry. His inspired interweavings of ornament, illustration, and calligraphy animate-and create a transcendent vision of otherworldliness." Meggendorfer's pop- up pictures, Sendak declared, "don't merely move; they spring to life." He acknowledged his kinship to cartoon strip artist Winsor McCay, serving "the same master, our child selves. We both draw not on the literal memory of childhood but on the emotional memory of its stress and urgency. And neither of us forgot our childhood dreams."

Sendak also offered a tribute to Lovat Fraser, the illustrator of Walter De La Mare's Peacock Pie, and in so doing created a perfect self-portrait: "He was free of aesthetic snobbery. With the same care and integrity, with relish and joy that are altogether beguiling, he embellished, decorated, and designed everything from charming ephemera to his glorious stage productions. No form was beneath him."

In his dedication to a popular form disdained by others, Sendak taught us how a picture book could stand unashamed next to the work of Melville and Mozart, and how truth telling was as important in a bedtime story as in a poem by Emily Dickinson. Most of all, he gifted us with a quickened, ever-experimenting sensibility. "The artist," Sendak wrote, "has to be a little bit bewildering and a little bit wild and a little bit disorderly." For the delights of such bewilderment, and for countless indelible phrases and images, we must be forever grateful.

Liz Rosenberg is the author of the novel Home Repair, published in May 2009 by HarperAvon, and of two recent books of poems, Demon Love (Mammoth Books) and The Lily Poems (Bright Hills). A book columnist for The Boston Globe, she also teaches English and Creative Writing at the State University of New York at Binghamton.

Reviewer: Liz Rosenberg

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062234896
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/5/2013
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 344,318
  • Age range: 12 - 18 Years
  • Lexile: AD940L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Maurice Sendak

In addition to Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak's books include Kenny's Window, Very Far Away, The Sign on Rosie's Door, Nutshell Library (consisting of Chicken Soup with Rice, Alligators All Around, One Was Johnny, and Pierre), Higglety Pigglety Pop! or There Must Be More to Life, In the Night Kitchen, Outside Over There, We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy, and Bumble-Ardy.

He received the 1964 Caldecott Medal for Where the Wild Things Are; the 1970 Hans Christian Andersen Award for Illustration; the 1983 Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, given by the American Library Association in recognition of his entire body of work; and a 1996 National Medal of Arts in recognition of his contribution to the arts in America. In 2003, he received the first Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, an international prize for children's literature established by the Swedish government.

In addition to Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak's books include Kenny's Window, Very Far Away, The Sign on Rosie's Door, Nutshell Library (consisting of Chicken Soup with Rice, Alligators All Around, One Was Johnny, and Pierre), Higglety Pigglety Pop! or There Must Be More to Life, In the Night Kitchen, Outside Over There, We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy, and Bumble-Ardy.

He received the 1964 Caldecott Medal for Where the Wild Things Are; the 1970 Hans Christian Andersen Award for Illustration; the 1983 Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, given by the American Library Association in recognition of his entire body of work; and a 1996 National Medal of Arts in recognition of his contribution to the arts in America. In 2003, he received the first Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, an international prize for children's literature established by the Swedish government.

Biography

"I never wrote a book where I taught a lesson," Maurice Sendak once bragged in an interview. Fans of his lyrical, lushly illustrated picture books know Sendak has a far more important mission. Rather than instructing his young readers in proper manners, the man who's been called "the Picasso of children's books" has been a vital, expressive voice for children's feelings.

Sendak first honed his art as an illustrator for writers like Ruth Krauss and Else Holmelund Minarek. He explored different styles of drawing and painting, influenced by sources as diverse as William Blake, Randolph Caldecott and Walt Disney.

In the '50s and early '60s, Sendak began to write his own books, and to forge his own distinctive visual style. The most popular of the works produced in what he later called his "apprenticeship period" was The Nutshell Library, a collection of four tiny books (2 1/2 by 4 inches wide) that was instantly and enduringly popular.

His first mature work, Where the Wild Things Are (1963), was a watershed both in Sendak's career and the history of children's literature. It tells the story of a boy named Max, whose mother sends him to his room without supper, calling him a "wild thing." Max makes an imaginary journey to a land of monsters, where he's crowned King of All Wild Things. But his longing for comfort and security return him at last to his room, where he finds his supper waiting for him. Some adults were dismayed by the book's ferocious-looking monsters and its belligerent young hero. "It is not a book to be left where a sensitive child may come upon it at twilight," one librarian cautioned.

Despite the warnings, Where the Wild Things Are was a huge commercial success, and was awarded the prestigious Caldecott Medal in 1964. In his acceptance speech, Sendak seemed to address his critics when he said that despite adults' desires to protect children from "painful experiences," the fact is "that from their earliest years children live on familiar terms with disrupting emotions, that fear and anxiety are an intrinsic part of their everyday lives, that they continually cope with frustration as best they can. And it is through fantasy that children achieve catharsis. It is the best means they have for taming Wild Things."

In the following years, Sendak illustrated dozens of books, and wrote and illustrated several more of his own, including In the Night Kitchen (1970) and Outside Over There (1981), which he considered to be the second and third parts of a trilogy that began with Where the Wild Things Are. A lover of theatre, he has also designed and produced numerous operas, plays and ballets.

Though his work has sometimes been controversial, Sendak is now renowned for his ability to recall, depict and transform the painful realities of childhood into what John Gardner, reviewing one of Sendak's books, called "not an ordinary children's book done extraordinarily well, but something different in kind from an ordinary children's book: a profound work of art for children."

Good To Know

In 1948, Maurice Sendak and his brother Jack took six model toys to the toy store F.A.O. Schwarz, which they hoped would commission a set. The store turned down the toys, but offered Maurice a job as a window display designer, which he took.

Sendak wrote Higglety Pigglety Pop! Or, There Must Be More to Life, in tribute to his beloved dog. The book's protagonist, like Sendak's pet, is a Sealyham terrier named Jennie. Years later, Sendak got a German shepherd, who already had a name when he adopted it. The dog was named Max, just like Sendak's most famous character.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Maurice Bernard Sendak (full name)
    2. Hometown:
      Ridgefield, Connecticut
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 10, 1928
    2. Place of Birth:
      Brooklyn, New York
    1. Education:
      Art Students' League

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