by Maurice Sendak; illus. by the author
Primary di Capua/HarperCollins 40 pp.
9/11 978-0-06-205198-1 $17.95 g
Bumble-Ardy made its first appearance back in 1971 as an animated short on Sesame Street featuring a boy who invited pigs to his ninth birthday party. Forty years later, the story makes its picture book debut, and Sendak has made some significant changes: all the characters are now pigs, and a prologue describes how Bumble-Ardy’s family neglected him for his first eight years and then “gorged, and got ate.”
Adopted by his sweet aunt, Adeline, Bumble-Ardy has been instructed not to allow anyone in while she’s at work, even though it’s his birthday, but he’s already sent out party invitations to nine grubby swine. Although he is defying authority, his own invitations impose more rules than Aunt Adeline ever would, including the directive that the guests should be neither late nor early, bring gifts, and come in costume.
At Bumble-Ardy’s party, it seems, everyone must come dressed in their own version of a wolf suit; like Max, they are ready to make mischief of one kind or another, with all the freedom anonymity promises. Some costumes are subtle references to Sendak’s earlier work—wild things, night-kitchen chefs, Really Rosie, and even, as if Sendak is taunting his critics, the all-around alligator “imitating Indians.” Some costumes pay homage to the work of others, including Dr. Seuss, William Steig, and Garth Williams — all of whom disturbed critics at one time or another. In fact, the two-year-old Bumble-Ardy is shown before the title page reading a newspaper with the banner headline “We Read Banned Books.”
Interestingly, two characters recur throughout: Death, represented by a macabre skeleton; and a prim and proper lady who wears a sheriff’s badge. Neither one steps in to stop the fun, although it feels as though one of them easily could at any minute. Amusing as it might be for children’s literature buffs to identify all the allusions, the book as a whole speaks to the sensibilities of young children in the same way Sendak’s earlier classics Where the Wild Things Are, In the Night Kitchen, and Outside Over There did. But the art itself is more reminiscent of later works, such as Brundibar and The Nutcracker, that draw as much from his experience in designing stage sets and costumes as from his picture book illustrations. Sendak deals with the psychological reality of a good time gone bad, of anarchy unleashed, all the while acknowledging that breaking the rules can be fun, and perhaps even necessary, whether one is a child or an artist.
From the September/October 2011 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.