Sendak drew and painted to music, and in his later career would design operas including The Magic Flute, The Love for Three Oranges, and his own Where the Wild Things Are, set by Oliver Knussen.
The Tony Kushner/Sendak collaboration Brundibar (2003) re-creates the story line of a Czech opera written by a Terezin concentration camp inmate and performed there by children whom the Nazis later murdered. It will be read on at least two different levels: adults will recognize the yellow stars sewn on the Jewish characters’ clothing and other ominous details while young listeners will want to know what happens next to the two little heroes, Pepicek and Aninku, who set out with an empty bucket to fetch milk for their ailing mother. Sendak’s crayon, colored-pencil, and brush pen illustrations feature rosy tones emphasized by bursts of crimson and yellow, or contrasted with intense blacks, browns, blues, and greens. Characters in nonstop action fill the pages, but there’s plenty of vivid white space to absorb them. (5–8 years)
Lullabies and Night Songs (1965), edited by William Engvick, with music by Alec Wilder, and illustrated by Sendak, is an extraordinary songbook, wholly enchanting in words, music, and illustrations. The editor has selected verses, in addition to some of his own, from poets notable and varied as well as many traditional pieces. The pictures – in muted yet luminous colors – are instantly engaging: by turns robust and delicate, mischievous and droll, tender and vigorous. The manuscript notation and the hand-lettered text contribute to the artistic whole. (3–7 years)
The mysterious, powerful, and slightly grotesque flavor of E. T. A. Hoffmann’s original Nutcracker is re-created through Ralph Manheim’s smooth, elegant translation (1984). The illustrations, spectacular and remarkably effective, are either taken from Sendak’s stage settings for the ballet or are newly drawn for this volume. Many of them show clearer and more pristine color and have a greater delicacy and lightness of line than do most of Sendak’s drawings (though there is an unmistakable, enormous Wild Thing peering from behind an island). Altogether a magnificent, splendid combination of talents — the author and the illustrator each worthy of the other. (5–8 years)