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My Brother's Book Hardcover – February 5, 2013
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*Starred Review* In his foreword, Shakespeare scholar Stephen Greenblatt describes Sendak’s last, posthumously published book as “something rich and strange.” And so it is. Combining lushly beautiful art in the manner of Blake and Fuseli with a text reconfigured from Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale, Sendak’s richly imagined book offers a magical and mysterious tribute to his beloved older brother, Jack, who died in 1995. The story follows the respective plights of two brothers, Jack and Guy, who are seemingly separated by a new star’s smashing into the earth. Jack is catapulted into a continent of ice and “stuck fast in water like a stone.” Guy, meanwhile, is plunged into the dangerous lair of a bear that threatens to consume him. Will the brothers survive to be reunited in love and peace? Distinguished by its pervasive sense of longing and informed by extraordinary art—some of Sendak’s most beautiful—My Brother’s Book is a celebration of the enduring love of two brothers. One’s first impulse is to marvel at the exquisite art and then to turn to the Shakespearean text to understand how the two seemingly disparate elements harmonize. Inviting reading and rereading, Sendak’s tribute to his brother is also a final tribute to his own genius. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Is there a children’s author whose name has been more enduring and recognizable than the late Sendak’s? Grades 10-12. --Michael Cart
The sharply felt humor and yearning that infuse both the verbal and visual narratives will kindle profound emotional responses in hearts of any age. (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))
Distinguished by its pervasive sense of longing and informed by extraordinary art—some of Sendak’s most beautiful—My Brother’s Book is a celebration of the enduring love of two brothers. Inviting reading and rereading, Sendak’s tribute to his brother is also a final tribute to his own genius. (Booklist (starred review))
To read this intensely private work is to look over the artist’s shoulder as he crafts his own afterworld, a place where he lies in silent embrace with those he loves forever. (Publishers Weekly (starred review))
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I'm not sure that this is a book that young children will warm to, although the theme of final resolution, enduring love, and safety even with adversity are comforting. But I am sure that this book will become a classic within many families as brothers age and ancient bonds assume new power. This is a book to share with your brother, then to buy another copy to read and re-read yourself.
The first about this little book to strike us is its art. It is, in part, his thanks and farewell to William Blake. Somehow in the bowels of Brooklyn, he encountered Blake. No wonder here. Blake would have, as a supporter of the American colonies, (he was also a trouble maker) known Brooklyn (King's County to the Crown); and he is known there. They both had the Brooklyners' response to authority: rude noises. Like Sendak, Blake was both artist and writer. He said Blake was his great and abiding love, his first teacher in all things. He shared Blakes primacy of the child. This is not some romantic notion. They believed that the child has contact to the eternal through imagination.
Maurice and Jack's grandparents, Israel and Bulma, lived in Russian occupied Poland before the millennium; the one before the one we passed not long ago. They were the keepers of the mystical imagination for their children. Separation came as their children separated from Poland going to America in 1913, the same as my grandparents, all to Ellis Island.
Maurice's father, Philip, was an author, (so many of the old stories told from his tongue), settled with Sadie on Livonia Avenue to raise children that have nourished us ever since. As a child, Philip was always in trouble with authority. He voiced his father's and his own changes to the bible stories, giving them a tarty twist or two. Magic is ancient and evident in these rugged, non-erasable, but mildly irascible people. Just look at Chagall. Not so far from Blake, is he? Again, Blake: "The Whole Bible is fill'd with Imagination & Visions". Children of the shtetl all of them. If you nourish the imagination of the child instead of harshly taming it, the imagination is available for all of life, as it was for the Sendaks across generations.
In this book, his brother Jack, is Jack. Maurice prefers to be just "Guy". Try not to read too much into all this. Sendak never forgets, but he sprinkles rather than shovels.
"The Winter's Tale" inspires the sad riddle of My Brother's Book. That veteran stage-set designer, Sendak cannot resist dragging back Shakesbear's famous animal as a snapping monster of Bohemia. The two brothers Sendak, separated by death, are united in the two child princes, and doubly, because they later are reunited as kings.
These are not just a set of illustrations he has drawn and painted. They are the work of art, as inseparable from the words of the poem as is a libretto is from the music, or more directly, the sets from the opera. Sendak was a master designer of sets for the stage. Most of have seen only his books. He was a multi-media Guy, after all.
Sendak was the object of relentless repression by the people of repressed imagination, forever trying to ban his books. Another Blake parallel, as his first (and treacherous) biographer, Frederick Tatham, an Irvingite, destroyed the manuscripts he inherited from Catherine Blake because they were similarly objectionable.
Maurice Sendak said he aspired to a Blakian death, whom, on his final day, finished his work and drew a portrait of Catherine, burst into an extended joyful singing, and died.
The worthy review posted by Wulfstan brought this book to my attention; and therefore my thanks, yet again, to his eagle eye. This small volume is printed on quality heavy shiny stock to show-off Sendak's paintings; published by HarperCollins under the imprint of Michael di Capua, famous also for Jules Feiffer and for Maurice Sendak's friend and colleague Tony Kushner (who wrote the screenplay for Lincoln recently).
Thanks Maurice, for all you have given my little family. You made the world a bit better - your gifts will never stop.
I recommend and point you to The Happy Rain and Circus Girl, Jack's two early books illustrated by the younger Maurice.