With Maurice Sendak’s death, the news has been full of Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen, so you may have missed the many folktales and nursery rhymes Sendak illustrated. Here are a few:
One of my personal favorites is Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer. In this collection of seven tales about the legendary village fools of Chelm, Maurice Sendak’s illustrations brim with wit and whimsy. Isaac Bashevis Singer’s writing has never been more droll. Somehow the fools always come out on top in these laugh-aloud stories for the entire family.
For The Juniper Tree and Other Tales from Grimm, translator Lore Segal (poet Randall Jarrell translated 4 tales) and Maurice Sendak jointly selected 27 from the 210 tales in the complete collection of Grimm stories. Both translators have been painstakingly faithful to the German texts. Here there are no retelling, fractured or modernized stories. They are full of grace and precision and rather wonderful to read.
Seven Tales by H.C. Andersen translated by Eva Le Gaillienne features Hans Christian Andersen’s most beloved stories. Maurice Sendak’s illustrations are wonderful in a mixture of full color and black and white. I’m surprised this collection is not better known.
King Grisly-Beard is an 1823 translation of a tale from the Brothers Grimm. It is the story of a princess who is too full of pride. To teach her a lesson, the king gives his daughter in marriage to the first beggar who comes to the door! Oh does she ever learn her lesson. Sendak’s illustrations of a boy and girl acting out the tale are quite humorous and make the story light.
Dwarf Long Nose is an original fairy tale written by Wilhelm Hauff, who was a contemporary of the Brothers Grimm! This is a tale about a boy with a long nose and a small body, who becomes a great cook, but who needs to find the secret ingredient that will set him free. It’s a long story, but really fun to read.
Another original fairytale which Sendak illustrated is The Bee Man of Orn by Frank R. Stockton. The Bee man earned his name because he spends all his time in the company of bees. One day he finds out that he has been transformed from something else, so the Bee Man sets out to discover what his original form was. Was he a giant, a powerful prince, some being who the fairies wished to punish? Read it and find out!!
Sendak also illustrated several nursery rhymes. I saw Esau is a collection of 170 nursery rhymes gathered by Peter and Iona Opie. The selections range from insults and riddles to jeers and jump-rope rhymes. Iona Opie’s introduction is a must read and Maurice Sendak’s pictures, which vary from vignettes to sequences and to full-page paintings, are funny and endearing.
In Hector Protector and as I went over the Water Maurice Sendak interprets two old Mother Goose rhymes in animated sequences. What I love about this book is that the rhymes are very short but Sendak’s fantastical pictures suggest a whole other story going on in addition to the brief lines that the rhymes suggest. The story is very child like and funny.
In contrast, the art in We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy is filled with social commentary. The images refer to poverty, war, crime, pollution, famine, unemployment, and other current evils. Children reading these two nursery rhymes will have a very different discussion from the one that might be generated by Hector Protector.
Finally, every new parent should have Lullabies and Night Songs compiled by Alec Wilder. This lovely selection of songs and lullabies covers many favorites and Maurice Sendak’s illustrations truly make them come alive.