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Review of Outside Over There

Outside Over ThereOutside Over There
by Maurice Sendak; illus. by the author
Primary, Intermediate     Harper     48 pp.
4/81     0-06-025523-4     $12.95
Library ed. 0-06-025524-2

Of his “self-styled picture-book trilogy” Maurice Sendak says, “They are all variations on the same theme: how children master various feelings — anger, boredom, fear, frustration, jealousy — and manage to come to grips with the realities of their lives.” Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen (both Harper) are boldly conceived fantasies, but in the long-awaited third volume the artist-writer pushes the frontier of reality farther back and moves into the realm of the fairy tale. The setting of the book is eighteenth-century rural — pastoral, really —appropriate for a story that reverberates with overtones of Grimm, Mozart, and German romantic poetry. “My stories come in bits and pieces of memories that don’t seem related for a very long time….But something in me determines they will be related.”

“When Papa was away at sea, / and Mama in the arbor, / Ida played her wonder horn / to rock the baby still — / but never watched.” Behind the girl’s back, infant goblins clambered in through the window and kidnapped her baby sister, leaving a changeling made of ice. But Ida climbed out of the window and, now aloft, whirled away in hot pursuit — but in the wrong direction. At last she heard, magically, “her Sailor Papa’s song,” telling her to turn around and “catch those goblins with a tune.” Tumbling down to the little creatures, she first captivated them by playing her horn; then, after dancing the five goblins into a frenzy, she found the real baby — her sister — “crooning and clapping as a baby should” and carried her home to safety.

Outside Over There — a book for all ages — is living testimony of the artist’s view of the picture book as “a beautiful, poetic form.” The story is haunting and evocative; the artwork mature and masterly. Although Sendak has never produced anything like the new book, echoes of his previous work will be perceived: a preoccupation with the transformational quality of windows, through which the goblins arrive and depart; Ida’s floating in the air, which recalls the levitating child in such books as Macdonald’s The Light Princess, Jarrell’s Fly by Night (both Farrar), Ruth Krauss’s Charlotte and the White Horse, and her I Want to Paint My Bathroom Blue (both Harper); and most of all, his magnificent obsession with babies, whom he has never portrayed with more truth and beauty.

Despite Sendak’s long, painstaking labors with the writing, the story is more fully realized in the illustrations than in the three-hundred-fifty-word text, slightly elliptical and a bit idiosyncratic with its occasional touches of rhythm and rhyme. For the paintings show the severely disciplined work of a modern master and implicitly acknowledge the lineage of his art: the visitas and composition of classical painting; the fantastic, almost mystical landscapes (like those he did in black and white for Randall Jarrell’s books) influenced by the nineteenth-century artists he admires so much; the fully refined, dazzling technique; the subtle gradations of color. The more it is enjoyed, the more the book yields up its secrets: for instance, the mysterious little cottage is actually the pavilion in which Mozart composed most of The Magic Flute; Ida’s drapery in flight is astonishingly reminiscent of El Greco; and the faceless robed and hooded goblins bear an uncanny resemblance to the statues on fifteenth-century Burgundian grave monuments. ETHEL L. HINES

From the June 1981 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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