Sendak never settled for prettiness; his illustrations for folklore demonstrate a respect for the tales’ immense power.
The Juniper Tree and Other Tales from Grimm (1973), selected by Lore Segal and Maurice Sendak, translated by Segal and Randall Jarrell, and illustrated by Sendak, features Grimm favorites including “Rapunzel,” “Hansel and Gretel,” and “Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs.” In his meticulous drawings, Sendak ranges far and wide for methods of suggesting the imaginative depths inherent in the tales. There is a quiet intensity in the illustrations, each of which seems to have its own aura. Originally published as a slipcased two-volume set, then in paperback in 1976 as a joint volume, the book was reissued in 2003 in a handsome hardcover edition. (7–10 years)
Generously embellished with illustrations from full-page compositions to vignettes illuminating individual verses, this newly edited reissue of 1947’s I Saw Esau: The Schoolchild’s Pocket Book (1992) edited by Iona and Peter Opie, is certainly an event. The Opies’ rhymes belong to the hidden culture of childhood, chants learned in the schoolyard or on the street and never sanctioned by adult approval. In Sendak’s illustrations, the characters seem more like miniaturized streetwise adults than children — or perhaps they are reminders that the conventional images of childhood are far too idealized. (5–8 years)
In We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy (1993), a passionate plea for social responsibility set to the text of two little-known nursery rhymes, Sendak created some of his most gripping and powerful images. In a setting of a dump, where homeless urchins live in shacks and cardboard boxes, two terrify rats steal a child and all the kittens in the area. Jack and Guy are challenged to play cards for “the kittens and the poor little kid,” but the rats hold the trump card. The double-page spreads with large images right at the surface pull us into the action and bombard us with emotion. Though readers will be alternately moved and repelled, this book should be studied and discussed. (5–8 years)