Sie sind auf Seite 1von 6

A TEACHER’S GUIDE TO

Gregory Maguire’s Making Mischief: A Maurice Sendak Appreciation

NOTE TO EDUCATORS

Gregory Maguire, who has been publishing novels for children and adults since he was 24 (he was born in 1954), is best known for Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. Already a national bestseller for a number of years before Wicked, the blockbuster musical based on his novel, opened on Broadway, the novel has gone on to sell millions of copies at home and abroad, and has spawned a cycle of novels known as The Wicked Years.

In a sense, however wide-ranging Maguire’s audiences—from readers of picture books to graduate students, teachers, professors and the general public—his most characteristic work involves a sense of play. He began in childhood to twist and revise received wisdom about traditional and commonly held tales, starting with backyard games reprising the plot of The Wizard of Oz following the annual airing of the 1939 film on commercial television. (Interestingly, Salman Rushdie, with whom Maguire shared a conversation on stage in 2009, also mentions that his career as a writer began in childhood with the inspiration to write something after being charmed by viewing that same film.)

Making Mischief: A Maurice Sendak Appreciation takes Maguire’s interest in the creative impulse to a new level. In exploring the work of American children’s book writer and artist Maurice Sendak, who has produced works of “unparalleled beauty” for over six decades, Maguire both honors the one of the greatest living American artists in any medium and also continues to examine the sense of larceny, improvisation, and inspiration that attend all people attempting to make something new out of what they already know.

Maguire is not the first and will not be the last to admire the breadth of Sendak’s vision and contribution. Tony Kushner (Angels in America) has written a volume, The Art of Maurice Sendak, 1980 to the Present that serves as an update to the Selma Lanes compendium, The Art of Maurice Sendak. Reviews and considerations of Sendak’s books have emerged from writers as various as John Updike, Salman Rushdie, Bruno Bettelheim. Furthermore, Sendak’s work has inspired filmstrips, operas, ballets, and, more recently, Spike Jonze’s film, Where the Wild Things Are. Maguire’s consideration, Making Mischief: A Maurice Sendak Appreciation, could not be more timely.

The profusely illustrated study of the artist’s oeuvre is divided into five distinct essays.

1. The first essay examines the pantheon of heroes that Sendak has named (and some Maguire name on his behalf), artists whose work has inspired aspects of Sendak’s own illustrations. From the lolloping text of Where the Wild Things Are to the lunatic adventures of Mickey in In The Night Kitchen, and through dozens of other examples ranging from Renaissance religious paintings to comic strips and silent films, Maguire explores the notion that all great artists are also scavengers, thieves, and alchemists.

monsters, and of the profoundly rich emotional lives of children—and shows how Sendak has gone at these themes again and again over six decades. In work that is sometimes scratchy and cartoony, dashed-off and jaunty, and at other times is highly compressed and densely cross-hatched or stunningly painted to within an inch of its life, Sendak’s techniques have changed but his central concerns have not. This essay shows how thematic consistency is apparent even when the medium and the mode of the storytelling art grows, develops, changes.

3. The third essay is perhaps the one that nails most particularly what Sendak’s great achievement has been: to show that the art of the picture book is a theatrical event. This is the most chronological of the essays, and it details how Sendak came to stage-manage his pages as he stage-managed the flow of action within the strict bounds of picture book conventions. From a single-page egocentric rumpus of a central child to a carefully stage-managed exercise in ensemble playing, Sendak evolved to be a maestro of dramatic tension as well as of psychological scrutiny.

4. Perhaps the most idiosyncratic of the essays, the fourth section of Maguire’s book plays the game that all aficionados play at one point or another: in the exhaustively profound output of a major artist, what work stands head and shoulders above the rest? This is a game of taste and personal appreciation, not of critical judgment, but Maguire plays it with brio. What ten pictures, out of the thousands of pieces Sendak has produced, have the most lasting impact on Maguire? This begs the question of students: How about you?

5. In the final essay, Maguire drives home his point that an artist in the grip of an inspiration works that inspiration with every breath, every trailing line of the pen, every careful pooling of ink or watercolor. Taking the hypnotic prose of Where the Wild Thinks Are, Maguire reillustrates it using artwork from the decades before and after the publication of that seminal picture book, showing that in a sense all of Maurice Sendak’s magnificent oeuvre emerges from his private principality, Where the Wild Things Are.

In conclusion, Maguire finally lights upon Sendak’s primary inspiration, whose influence has been more conclusive and pervasive than any of the great artists mentioned in the first essay.

QUESTIONS FOR CLASS DISCUSSION

2.

Where the Wild Things Are was published in 1963, and received generally favorable reviews in the year before

it was awarded the Caldecott Medal from the American Library Association for the best illustrated book of the

year. However, some reviewers and commentators were skeptical. One review suggested that “it is not a book to be left where a sensitive child may come upon it at twilight.” No less a pundit than Bruno Bettelheim, the child psychologist and (later) the author of The Uses of Enchantment, cautioned against the book as being fare too strong for young children. (Admittedly he later recanted.) Did you come upon the book as a young child? An early reader? An adult introducing the book to someone younger? How did it strike you then? How has your contemporary response changed—if it has changed?

3. In 2009 the long awaited film by Spike Jonze, Where the Wild Things Are, was released to a confusion of reviews that emulated the original response to the book’s publication forty six years earlier. Many reviews thought the film was dark, muddled, too scary, too ambiguous, too far afield from the almost Zen simplicity of

the picture book. The Boston Globe asserted that the film “isn’t so much for little kids as it is about them.” Have you seen the film, and if so, in what ways does the film related to the original story. As an homage? A translation into a new medium? An oversized caricature? A poetic reinterpretation? Is it a mess or a mystery, or

a little of both? Why?

4. Take a look at pages 112-130 in Making Mischief. Here Maguire draws a strand of interpretation from Sendak’s propensity to draw windows in his early books (admiring the frightening world outside the ken of a safely- harbored child) through his interest in stage-managing the film-still or the tableau vivant of an individual drawing, concluding at Sendak’s collaboration with Tony Kushner in the magnificent picture book, Brundibar, based on a musical play that was written and performed in the Nazi concentration camp of Terezin. Then go through other pages in Making Mischief—or in Sendak’s collected picture books—and comment upon the drama inherent in the “blocking” of figures on each separate page. Consider also how figures move from one page to the next to simulate the effect of movement through time.

5. In The Prisoner, the fifth volume of Proust’s masterpiece, In Search of Lost Time, the narrator muses about the peculiar quality of the artist. “Each great artist seems to be the citizen of an unknown homeland which even he has forgotten, different from the land from which another great artist will soon set sail for the earth.” Since Sendak’s work is itself so often about movement and travel—toward the Night Kitchen, toward Outside over There, toward where The Wild Things are—in what ways can you suggest that the voyage of the artist and the life voyage of the child—not just the children in these picture books, but any child—are similar? Are different?

6. St. Paul reminds us that when we become adult, we put away the things of childhood. Yet there is a long history of people carrying through life the things that meant most to them as children. One might posit that a young child reading Where the Wild Things Are—or having it read to them—would not immediately single out this book for lifelong companionship. It would roll into the great mass of texts brought for children to admire, along with The Cat in the Hat, Madeline, Peter Rabbit, Babar, The Elephant, and any number of other books good, bad, and indifferent. But at a certain point as one goes toward young adulthood, most things are left behind. Not all. Think of the young pair of Goths on the urban street corner. Their clothes and makeup hint at adult depravity

—but they are sucking on Tootsie pops. Think of Sebastian Flyte in Brideshead Revisited, off to Oxford as a Bright Young Thing—but still clutching his childhood teddy bear. Then think of what happens when one leaves college, the old texts dumped in cardboard boxes for Goodwill, or sold back to the college bookstore. Some few things are kept. Where the Wild Things Are is one of those stories that carries on, that means as much to adults looking in as it did to children looking out. Why is that? What does Where the Wild Things Are say to someone going off to launch a family, to march into the fray of office politics, to seek the meaning behind the murky philosophies of life?

7.

Consider the pairings of images that Maguire sets up in section one of Making Mischief. William Blake and Sendak, Winslow Homer and Sendak, Andrea Mantegna and Sendak, Winsor McKay and Sendak, to name just

a

few. Of these impressive antecedents and guides, do you think Sendak has in any way reduced or obliterated

the power of the original? Are there instances among these pairings in which this kind of borrowing—or larceny —sheds a less than flattering light backward upon the original artist? Taking a larger point, is Sendak purloining the work of others, or “appropriating” it, as the current jargon has it? Is there anything illegitimate or unseemly about an artist relying on the work of an earlier master for his or her inspiration?

8.

Examine the work of several other major contributors to the field of children’s picture books in the twentieth century. A list might include Beatrix Potter, Jean de Brunhoff, Ludwig Bemelmans, Robert McCloskey, Uri Shulevitz, Wanda Gag, Nancy Ekholm Burkert, William Steig, Virginia Lee Burton, H. A. Rey, Arnold Lobel, Marc Brown, Margaret Wise Brown, Edward Ardizzone, Leo and Diane Dillon, Dr. Seuss—to name just a few. Consider six to ten books of one of these artists and make a comparison between the themes and styles of another artist’s life work and that of Sendak’s.

9.

It

has been said that the perfect picture book is one in which both words and artwork are needed for the story to

work. A story in which the artwork can be eliminated and the story hold its power is, in these terms, not a picture book but an illustrated book. Artwork that can be extracted from a book without deleterious effect on the book’s power to enchant is similarly ancillary to the book, and not essential. Examine some of Sendak’s picture books and describe what is being said in the artwork that is not mirrored in the text.

TOPICS FOR RESEARCH AND WRITING PROJECTS

1. Maguire suggests that he will resist naming a theme that runs centrally in all of Sendak’s most important work— to wit, those books he both wrote and illustrated (see list below in the next section.) Looking at six of Sendak’s books from the list above (including, at the minimum, Where the Wild Things Are, In the Night Kitchen, Outside Over There, and Brundibar) what would you conclude Sendak’s primary theme is? What in the text, the story, the use of language, the particular illustrations, would you cite as reasons for your conclusion?

3.

Maguire states that “Lots and lots of good children’s books were written in the century leading up to the 1960s. If light was shed on the peril and the promise of human existence, however, it occurred only rarely in picture books. Novels could admit to bitter truths—Kipling’s and Mark Twain’s managed it as well as any—but besides the works of Beatrix Potter and de Brunhoff and a few others, picture books generally preserved the banal sanctity of the nursery, where the green baize door to the grown-ups downstairs closed out anything unsuitable that might trouble the innocent mind.” Do you agree or disagree? Refer to children’s picture books—English or American or from further afield, if you have knowledge of other literature—to support or to contend Maguire’s statement. (What might “the peril and the promise of human existence” mean to a child who is being read a picture book, anyway?)

4.

Maguire quotes Archibald MacLeish: “There is only one kind of poetry: Poetry. The art has no departments.” What significance does this statement have in the consideration of children’s books in general—which range from the simplest board books made out of cloth to young adult novels featuring the most adult of situations and language—and in the consideration of the work of Maurice Sendak.

5.

Locate a copy of Maurice Sendak’s book of reviews and essays, Caldecott and Company, and prepare a presentation for fellow students about Sendak’s critical responses to work other than his own.

6.

Read the two historical synopses of Sendak’s career—The Art of Maurice Sendak, by Selma Lanes, and Tony Kushner's The Art of Maurice Sendak, 1980 to the Present—and analyze the differences between the first and second halves of Sendak’s career as illustrated in these volumes, taking into account the different approaches and biases of the two very different authors of these books.

7.

Locate a copy of Jon Cech’s Angels and Wild Things: The Archetypal Poetics of Maurice Sendak and prepare a presentation for fellow students about Jon Cech’s critical approach and conclusions in his consideration of Sendak’s ouvre.

8.

Watch two films that deal with children in situations of crisis that work with much of the same material: The Lord of the Flies and Where the Wild Things Are. Assess what material is common and what is unique, and what each says about childhood and wildness, and talk about the techniques of personification and characterization that allow each film auteur to approach his goals.

9.

Review the works listed at the top of this section and any other materials you choose that are illustrated by Sendak. Following the exposition demonstrated by Maguire in section II of Making Mischief—where he considers the recurrence of powerful images of flying, books, monsters, and children’s emotions—and make an argument about four other of Sendak’s favorite and recurring image sequences and patterns.

10.

In Making Mischief, Maguire suggests his own ten “greatest hits” of Sendak’s oeuvre. Can you make a list of your own? Even if you choose some of the images that Maguire most adores, what would you say about them