Maurice Sendak, Leonard Marcus and Google’s Wild Doodle

            If you saw the Fine Books Facebook page on Monday you may have been enticed to guess who will grace the magazine’s summer cover.  A hint to seek out that day’s Google Doodle (see below) would have led you to Maurice Sendak, arguably the twentieth century’s preeminent illustrator of children’s books.   Google created the Doodle because Sendak would have celebrated his 85th birthday on Monday.  (Sendak died last May.)

            Leonard Marcus, a leading authority on children’s books and illustrations, has written a story for the summer issue discussing Sendak and his work. Marcus is also the author of Show me a Story! Why Picture Books Matter (Candlewick 2012) and recently edited a catalogue in conjunction with an exhibition of over 200 of Sendak’s previously unpublished art and sponsored by the New York Society of Illustrators.

            Bill Clinton dubbed Sendak “The King of Dreams” when he awarded him the National Medal of Art in 1996.  The Brooklyn native wrote and illustrated close to 100 titles, including perhaps most notably Where the Wild Things Are. He was awarded a Caldecott Medal and the Hans Christian Andersen Award, among many others throughout his sixty-year career. 

            Children of all ages can cite their favorite book. Mine is Dear Mili, an unpublished Wilhelm Grimm tale rediscovered in 1983 and published with Sendak’s illustrations in 1988.  The images of death and miracles are wild – abnormally vivid forests, little girls with very large feet, and psychedelic landscapes. I remember reading it as a child, and while the story itself frightened me, I could not stop gazing at those wonderful images and following Mili on her unflinching quest.  In Show me a Story! Marcus asks Sendak about Mili. His response illustrates his complete understanding of children: “…she has the same kind of trudging, hard-working quality that I love in children. They’re trudging children; they go and do what they must do.”

            A little Father’s Day tribute regarding Dear Mili: as a prized possession, I have a poster for the book, signed by Sendak, that my father stood in a long line to get at an ABA Convention the year of publication. It’s the only time he ever queued up at any book convention to get a poster signed. And since Sendak was only autographing one poster per customer, my doting dad got right back in line and procured another so that my sister and I might each have one.   

Hickory, Dickory, Dock

Hickory by Palmer Brown; The New York Review of Children’s Books, $14.95, 56 pages, ages 5-8. 


© The New York Review of Children’s Books 

Inspired by the classic nursery rhyme, Palmer Brown’s mouse adventure starts out in a cozy grandfather clock. Aside from the occasional mousetrap, life is good for Hickory, Dickory and Dock. Hickory, the eldest, decides to strike out on his own.  Upon moving to the nearby meadow, he settles into a comfortable, if lonely, existence. Soon a cheery grasshopper named Hop bounds into Hickory’s life, and the unlikely duo revel in the bounty of the summer meadow. 


© The New York Review of Children’s Books 

When the air turns crisp, Hop alerts her companion that soon she will meet her end – in terms that a small child might not quite grasp – and Hickory embarks on a mission to save his companion from her demise.  The pair head south, hopeful that they may outwit Mother Nature. Soon enough, Hickory realizes that some things are immutable, and that acceptance marks the end of a touching and emotional story of friendship. 


© The New York Review of Children’s Books 

Brown’s colorful drawings pepper the book, depicting a miniature world wrought large. Younger readers will enjoy picking out the tiniest of details – a match next to a flowerpot, Hickory’s crutches thrown into the grass – and budding botanists will adore the illustrations of seasonally appropriate plants and flowers.

Originally published in 1978, Hickory was recently reissued by The New York Review of Children’s Books.  All five of Brown’s books for children are in print.  

Printing and Book Studies in Paradise

Tempus fugit. I attended my ten-year college reunion last weekend at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. One activity advertised the opportunity to print a broadside keepsake on an 1834 Otis Tufts iron hand press.

I happily waited on line for an hour to feed a sheet of paper into the machine. Finally, I had my turn at the toggle lever and pressed an image of the college onto ivory paper.  Luckily, a local professional printer was there to assist eager compositors; without a guiding hand I would have used far less force than was required to create the impression. In fact, there are some places on my keepsake where the ink is lighter than others.   


The front of my broadside keepsake, after I folded it. The chapel spire is lighter than other sections. 

Martin Antonetti, curator of rare books at Smith, spoke with me about how he had rescued the machine, and how it ended up on the third floor of the library.  “I found the press in pieces in the basement of Hillyer Hall when it was being cleared out for the renovation project about 10 years ago. Some of the parts were actually missing, but we had them fabricated by the machinist Greg Young on campus, using a diagram we found in a 19th-century printing handbook.”  Now, alongside cases of antique type, the machine welcomes visitors at the entrance to the Mortimer Rare Book Room. 


diagram of a hand press 

While waiting for my turn at the press, I also spoke with Barbara Blumenthal, the rare book specialist in the Mortimer Rare Book Room as well as an administrative assistant for the Book Studies Concentration Program at Smith. She explained the new concentration program to me. 

Since the program’s inception in 2011, students have been able to choose from ten areas of interest. There’s a concentration in poetry, the aforementioned Book Studies and even an exploration of Buddhism. Students may pursue a concentration in addition to declaring a major. 

The goal of such a course of study is to combine practical and intellectual experiences around one subject.  Each concentration culminates with a ‘capstone’ experience – an independent senior research project presented at the end of the spring semester. 

The Book Studies Concentration is an exciting addition to the Smith curriculum and an excellent way to explore the vibrant book arts community in the Pioneer Valley.  

I is for Imagination in Appalachia

Appalachian Toys and Games From A to Z by Linda Hager Pack, illustrated by Pat Banks; University of Kentucky Press, $17.95, 56 pages ages 5 and up.

  © University Press of Kentucky

Most modern American children have likely never heard of whimmydiddles (toys carved out of ivy and made to spin by reciting magic words) or played with apple dolls. This alphabet book, set in the heart of Appalachia, presents homemade playthings and games that entertained children at the end of the nineteenth century. Appalachia native Linda Pack has spent her career researching and writing about the culture and traditions unique to the people of this storied mountain community.

Each letter of the alphabet depicts an activity or plaything. While some are unique (such as the aforementioned whimmydiddle) others are bound to be familiar, such as jumping rope, playing marbles, and setting noisemakers.  An explanation of each activity accompanies the entries. Pack also provides instructions for how to play imaginative games such as Drop the Handkerchief and Anty Over.  Still other entries include folktales such as the story “Never Mind Them Watermelons” often told to Appalachian children. 

© University Press of Kentucky

This eloquent ode to games of yesteryear would be incomplete without the enchanting watercolors by Pat Banks, a native of Kentucky who collaborated with Pack on a previous book about Appalachia.  Over twenty beautiful illustrations capture an active and rich childhood enjoyed mostly outdoors and among friends.  Perhaps modern readers will be enticed to put down their electric diversions and try some of these imaginative pastimes.  

A glossary, author’s and illustrator’s notes, plus a thorough bibliography ensure that this book will grow with its readers, from an alphabet teaching tool to a reference source. 

© University Press of Kentucky

1922 – Gatsby, Newbery and Melcher

The release of a new film adaptation of Fitzgerald’s classic novel has reignited a mania for all things Gatsby. And why not? The story illustrates a prosperous, glamorous, yet sometimes garish, period in American society.  Today, we look at the creation of the first award for children’s literature, which was the same year in which Fitzgerald set The Great Gatbsy. 

While Fitzgerald described the cosmopolitan world of flapper culture set to decadent jazz music, American publisher and renowned admirer of children’s books Frederic Melcher commissioned the first Newbery Medal. Melcher named the award after the eighteenth-century British bookseller and printer Jon Newbery because he is regarded as the first dedicated printer and publisher of children’s literature.  

Newbery felt that making beautiful and accessible books for children was essential to their development. When he published Pretty Poems for Children Three Feet High he added the following inscription: “To all those who are good this book is dedicated by their best friend.”[1]

The first Newbery medal winner was a non-fiction history book called The Story of Mankindby Hendrik Willem van Loon (Liveright). In the 1920’s this book was considered the authoritative children’s resource on 5,000 years of history.  

Like The Great Gatsby, the Newbery Award isa uniquely American institution, since only authors contributing to American children’s literature and published in the United States by an American publisher are considered for the prize.

Source: Hazard, Paul. Books, Children & Men. (M. Mitchell, Trans.).Boston: The Horn Book Co., 1944. 

For toddlers, taking a swipe is no substitute for traditional skills

For toddlers, taking a swipe is no substitute for traditional skills

A Feline Fantasy Returns to Print

“The Abandoned,” by Paul Gallico; The New York Review of Books, $15.95, 312 pages, ages 8-12. 




            While trying to save a stray cat from certain death, eight-year old Peter is struck by a coal truck and thrown to the side of the road.  During the resulting coma he is magically turned into a fluffy white cat. Unrecognized by Nanny, (the boy’s parents are apathetic and generally uninvolved in his upbringing) he is chased from home.  A fellow stray named Jennie helps Peter navigate the rough and violent London streets in this classic adventure/fantasy novel originally published in 1950.

           This book is catnip to those who adore cats. Yet for those who may not be of the feline persuasion, it’s a worthy read nonetheless.  It’s easy to see why J.K. Rowling is a fan of Gallico’s skill at intertwining magic with reality, and some sections of the book recall scenes from the various Harry Potter books. 

            The undercurrent of disappointment and unhappiness makes this a captivating story for adolescent readers as well as older readers looking for a whimsical tale filled with exploits and bravery.  The Abandoned also chronicles the daily struggle of a city stray, from participating in catfights to finding cozy spots to spend the night.  

            Last published in the United States in 1991, The Abandoned is now being republished by the New York Review of Books. According to, this work has been one of the most sought-after out of print titles in the United States for the past three years.  This edition is bound in striking red cloth and the cover is graced with a beautiful Palmer Brown watercolor of two cats sitting in a shipyard.  

             In addition to writing children’s books, Gallico (1897-1976) was a sport’s columnist for the New York Daily News and short story writer.  Some of his works were adapted to film, most notably The Poseidon Adventure in 1972.   


photo credit Carl van Vechten