"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

What’s the Rumpus?

Kudos to Rolling Stone who reprinted Jonathan Cott’s 1976 profile of Maurice Sendak:

In the Night Kitchen, one of Sendak’s greatest works, shows little Mickey falling naked through the night into the Oliver Hardy bakers’ dough, kneading and pounding it into a Hap Harrigan plane, flying over the city, diving into a giant milk bottle, then sliding back into his bed to sleep. It is a work that pays extraordinary homage to Sendak’s early aesthetic influences – especially to Winsor McCay – to the cheap, full-color children’s books of the period, as well as to the feelings about New York City he had as a little boy.

“When I was a child,” he told Virginia Haviland, “there was an advertisement which I remember very clearly. It was for the Sunshine bakers, and it read: ‘We Bake While You Sleep!’ It seemed to me the most sadistic thing in the world, because all I wanted to do was stay up and watch… it seemed so absurdly cruel and arbitrary for them to do it while I slept. And also for them to think I would think that that was terrific stuff on their part, and would eat their product on top of that. It bothered me a good deal, and I remember I used to save the coupons showing the three fat little Sunshine bakers going off to this magic place at night, wherever it was, to have their fun, while I had to go to bed. This book was a sort of vendetta book to get back at them and to say that I am now old enough to stay up at night and know what’s happening in the Night Kitchen!

“Another thing is: I lived in Brooklyn, and to travel to Manhattan was a big deal, even though it was so close. I couldn’t go by myself, and I counted a good deal on my elder sister. She took my brother and me to Radio City Music Hall, or the Roxy, or some such place. Now, the point of going to New York was that you ate in New York. Somehow to me New York represented eating. And eating in a very fashionable, elegant, superlatively mysterious place like Longchamps. You got dressed up, you went uptown – it was night when you got there and there were lots of windows blinking – and you went straight to a place to eat. It was one of the most exciting things of my childhood. Cross the bridge and see the city approaching, get there and have your dinner, then go to a movie and come home. So, again, In the Night Kitchen is a kind of homage to New York City, the city I loved so much and still love.”

I love this bit:

Maurice’s sister Natalie gave him his first book, The Prince and the Pauper. “A ritual began with that book,” Sendak once told Virginia Haviland, “which I recall very clearly. The first thing was to set it up on the tablel and stare at it for a long time. Not because I was impressed with Mark Twain; it was just such a beautiful object. Then came the smelling of it… it was printed on particularly fine paper, unlike the Disney books I had gotten previous to that. The Prince and the Paper – Pauper – smelled good and it also had a shiny laminated cover. I flipped over that. I remember trying to bite into it, which I don’t imagine is what my sister intended when she bought the book for me. But the last thing I did with the book was to read it. It was all right. But I think it started then, my passion for books and bookmaking. There’s so much more to a book than just the reading. I’ve seen children touch books, fondle books, smell books, and it’s all the reason in the world why books should be beautifully produced.”

Give the article a read. It’s terrific and well worth your time.

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--Earl Weaver