Directions in children's literature; 12
Directions in children's literature at Riverside radio WRVO in New York City presents the 12th program of the second series with Richard Lewis poet and teacher and other authorities in the field of children's literature. At this time Mr. LEWIS His guest is Maurice Sendak author and illustrator whose recent book is he going to be called the pop or there must be more to life. Issued by hope and wrote the topic for discussion is fantasy and children's literature. This is Richard Lewis. And today we're going to be talking to Marie Sendak about the nature of fantasy and how he's used fantasy and in some of his books. But before we get into the discussion with Maurice are like to introduce to our audience some of the books that Maurice Sendak himself has both Illustrated and written. One particular book which I'd certainly like to begin off by giving publisher and some information about it where the wild things are which Maurice Sendak has both written the story and on the illustrations for. And it's published by Harper and Row. This is a book which
won the very coveted Caldicott award. And I think in many ways is a book which is. An important book as far as the directions it was pointing to as far as what we can give to children what children themselves can absorb. The newest book which Maurice Sendak himself has both written and illustrated is a book entitled higgledy piggledy pup or there must be more to life. And this again was published by Harper and Row. There was one of the book I'd like to mention which was not written by Marie's but has absolutely magnificent illustrations in it. It's in title The Golden Key by George MacDonald. And I think this is perhaps a book which in terms of our discussion which we're going to have now about fantasy is in itself and I don't mean
this to be upon a key to the whole world of fantasy itself. This is a book which I think anybody who is interested in the nature of fantasy should and must read it is a book which like Where the Wild Things Are in its own way points to direction gives clues to the entire nature of fantasy. It is written by a master and in some ways I think Maurice Sendak is a master in another way a way which I hope will be able to. Talk about in the next 28 minutes or so. I said I'd like to begin by just sort of throwing out a very general question which is basically a philosophical question. In the world we're living in today which seems to have such pressures in terms of realism in terms of things being factual the whole television era in which the element of advertising which incorporates a degree of fantasy which is not fantasy at all.
All of this sort of putting pressure on human beings with particular young people to not think of fantasy as a legitimate way of thinking. How do you yourself fit into this what do you feel how do you feel. Fantasy can be a means of speaking as a legitimate means of speaking to an audience or Richard I think of the problem often is that a line is drawn there's this dichotomy supposedly between reality and fantasy as though it's two different planets and people talk about books real things and books of fantasy things. And so far as I'm concerned one doesn't exist without the other. So that when you are discussing a real problem as I often do in the books I've written I cloak them in fantastical terms but the book is both things we don't dream without having had experiences. Dreams don't just come into your head like a Grimms fairy tale. These things are
comics all the time here and I think often real problems are not so much problems real things can be discussed much more effectively in terms of fantasy and children absorb real things more quickly when they are discussed in terms of fantasy. They know what is real in a fairy tale. Maybe adults don't but you are going to really get back to the whole definition as someone once gave a fantasy that for anything to be fantastic it's it's got to have its feet in realism exactly when it's got to drag its feet literally and realize it can't exist it doesn't exist without it and I think the beauty of it is how beautifully you can write your reality within your fantasy not so much disguises but blend the two so that they're inseparable. Yeah this is when a book is meaningful. I think people who think they're writing fantasies are fairy tales and go off into the sky making the grave error of boring children you know because what children are endlessly looking for real facts. I mean having a lot of trouble growing up. They're here on Earth and I've got to figure out ways how to
solve their own problems. You know books that help them in one form or another and fantasies are there to help them for that reason not to ignore reality but to make clear reality. Do you think that fantasy which which a child can understand basically when not always be understood by an adult right in certain ways. Why do you think this happens. Well children are on two levels really. They aren't well say the audience I will I'm interested and I will write for is maybe the preschool child where the the line isn't so clear as to what is daydreaming and to what is actually a day's event in reality. And I think they go back and forth quite easily between these two things this is a marvelous time to catch them. And give them a story that is doing precisely this kind of thing. They aren't dismayed by this. Now the older they get and the adult is very dismayed by this and he very often has forgotten everything to do with his childhood he concocts a sentimental picture in which he then tells his own children
about. And there are very very few people who have a foothold in their own childhood. It's a gift frankly and I think the best children's book writers throughout history have had this peculiar gift. It makes for its own problems but it also clearly says that not all people are committed to the profession of children's book writing and illustrating. One has to be endowed with this peculiar goodness and I think also to I'm certain I can say this in terms of your own books that the power of the fantasy that you've been able to create say in a book like Where the Wild Things on. What it does is that it goes above and beyond just children. That it's powerful enough to speak to an adult. Even I think I would like to feel this an adult who has become somewhat solidified in thinking that it can't because of the choice of imagery the choice of words to describe these images. Well I would like to feel that a real book for children is a real book period and is not ostracized and kept within the ghetto of
children's book land. There was a time when books were written period and many children read them only in our own time. Have we come into the Great Age of children's books for children which are thus isolated from adults. And there is a mockery about children's book and a condescension and I take this very hard. I think it's course turned tremendously tragic in a way because. For instance the way you speak of fear in Where The Wild Things Are. I mean to me this is from endlessly poignant and tremendously pointed and getting right at the very root of what fear is all about. And very few adults in quote books that speak of fear of the way you do in this particular book and yet because it's been segregated to a children's book it obviously is not going to be read in your mind adult audience and often when it is read by the adult they keep thinking of it as a children's book. Right so they say I think transform themselves into children
rather then being what they are and letting the book hit them. But it all it's it's always been a problem I write my own talent directs that I write in terms of child imagery you know that is the only thing I can do however the problems I am writing about are not specifically childish or childhood problems I am writing I am an adult I am writing from an adult point of view. My story's problems with dreams whatever are couched in child vision. Yes that's what makes them for say a children's book. But hopefully there is much more to it than that. And I think you're right I think I immediately when it becomes a children's book. A large audience of neglected you know automatically immersed in terms of your life in terms of your own childhood. Can you remember how fantasy played its part particularly the books and see how they played their part in your own childhood.
That is hard to remember because I don't recollect that many scenes in my childhood I think any more than ordinary people do you know. It's very difficult I can remember just the things almost everybody can remember I remember books being a tremendous source of comfort in my childhood as they probably are for all children as a way of escaping. On one level and as a way of vicariously experiencing when it was too difficult to experience openly in the house or on the front. You know in front of my house and. I think books have always been just magic for me. I mean I might go into hyperbole and say they saved my life but I'm not sure that's wrong. You might very well have been the case and my love for books extends not only to the reading but I had an obsession about books as a child. I mean books books the feel of books the treatment of books the look of books how you held books and how you stored books carefully away so that the book itself before we even read at the years became a
great object of this love. And this this I think comes through in terms of certainly looking at your books now. It seems to me that one of the unique qualities of your books is the very. Visual appearance of them right from the start that one wants to handle them. You know you get this immediately in higgledy piggledy part for instance just opening the book up. It seems to me that that it invites the reader to want to open it up. The whole sense of the use of white space and in terms of the picture things are not cluttered they're all open and wide and you know so they're breathing. Well that's that's all part of the doing of the book you know as important as the writing and the illustrating is it's the it's the invitation to the book yes it's the enticement of the book I think very few books have that I mean I think this is unfortunate this other commercial material concept of the publisher seem to have the most books you know there's material that's put into into a shape.
Well I think that's that's improved probably over the past 10 years where. Everyone in the profession is infinitely more conscious of graphics and beauty of publishing. Yes so that when you think of the books of the 30s and 40s what we have now are fantastically more good rheumy and what might still be missing to some extent is the personal involvement of the artist in the book now whose paper might be better and as binding as color printing might be better but his own personal whatever that goes into the very shape of the book which is as precisely him as the words he's written US is still something new to happen I think. Yes I'd like to get back to this element of fear because I think within the fantasies that you've created. One thing that seems to be very apparent is your use of fear and your lack of hesitation to to explore it in any number of ways and degrees. What has been the reaction in terms of the public to the way you used fear within the books that you've done.
Well I that I can only tell from correspondence from children and discussions with librarians and parents. I think it's safe from children although probably there will be those children who don't like my books and they've written to tell me so. But in general the reaction has been marvelous. They've taken it with a kind of glee and it's been a cathartic experience for them. They enjoy it they love it they look for all the clues which children look for in books which adults don't know or their adults tend to see it immediately as something frightening for their children without knowing really what it is that children get frightened at or even remembering that children are frightened a great deal of the time. And that fear is not any mysterious unknown thing in their lives so when they come upon it in a book I think they're quite happy to have an experience for them you know. And then of course solve for them by the end of the book I don't leave them cliffhanger or terrified out of their
wits. My object is to explore my own anxiety. Yes. And yet at the same time I am aware the fact that I'm writing for children. There is a limitation imposed. Max does come back at the end of the wild things and that's largely because it's a children's book and it's very important that it does solve itself at the end. But the exploring of the subject is fascinating to me and it has seemed to be for children. The book is very popular. I don't tend on the whole to be diffident and very very cautious of you and the other thing which you just mentioned is a fact. One gets this sense all the time in the books that that you are going to some particular place somewhere not here but some where you think you are always moving to that you know the castle yonder. Or a dream or something that is always a destination which I don't know how you feel maybe this is a very important element in fantasy I think.
I think so to me and in the wild things Max has his experience outside of the house in his fantasy it's on an island I think to have had the experience inside the house inside his room would have been very fearful for him because that would have brought the realities of his fear much too close to him and who he was really angry at and children tend to. Well I'm generalizing but to some effect they they tend to push their fear somewhere else. They will experiment with outside you know with the Indians on the plane or with someone on the moon. But it's never in the room and you never in the kitchen hardly ever. It has to be somewhere else or going to go and do this and everything I've written my characters have gone elsewhere to blow their tops and then they come home and they're fine and as well as going elsewhere they they almost explore a sense of time that I think is of both childlike and very adult like at the same time because the whole the whole business of when you go here and. He comes back on the
boat and he sailed back over a year and in and out of weeks and through a day. I mean that to me is magical group. Because it really is the whole sensual experience of time is timeless. What are you doing right everything is suspended. Yes and then of course a nickel plated higgledy piggledy papa same thing happens as you know the sort of mixed up sense of here and now in the past all combining of one. Yes well this is a lovely thing to work with it also is not original with me although I respond to it strongly but you will find in Grimm fairy tales where things are condensed fantastically into a very short space of time and in George MacDonald where years will pass and seconds leading seconds which just adds more to the fantasy enhances the fantasy and you have the same times truth. Yes I mean yes it is unique and I think it is it is in fact what time does do right if you look at it from another perspective then the rather mundane sense that we have in
this world of getting home at 5. The second hand mania. The other thing too which. Which intrigues me about particularly in he politically pop to your use of objects close at hand which of course the child is constantly telling me No no object is unimportant to a child he'll use it and it's a virtue in your writing that I think that very few adult writers ever get to because they're too busy. They want to see important things. France in the opening of Italy believe up where you've used the supply and on the windows and I think it's a magical way of beginning because it's the closest thing to the door. Do you feel that your self-image is something that you can just leave. And I really do it's one of the probably one of the hangovers from childhood which did not evaporate as it might have been with growing into an adult is that in that it objects have never really been an out of it. Yes and you find I
find this like I love it so much in Anderson's fairy tale it was probably the one thing I really like about Anderson is that the scenes in the kitchen between the pots and the cooking utensils has absolutely no obsession with an adamant objects who have a life of their own. You know this I feel very strongly. To the point where it's upsetting sometimes were a drawing pen. If it is in a foul mood of a certain day I will obstinately not draw for me just purely in a childish way I will push everything hard to the pen and say it is not working for me. Well this this has happened to me all my life I actually enjoyed very much actually so that scene with Jenny and the plant came very spontaneously so you know and actually it is based as we began this discussion on reality because at one point Jenny was my dog. I did eat a plant which was very very funny because she didn't particularly like Liza and I think she just was in a vendetta mood at the time but this occurrence happened a long time ago as of no special significance you know.
But when I wrote the book that scene came out very vividly and. Start of the whole story for me. It's PR Jane. You know his examination of children care of the conclusion that at a very young child anything that moves to the young child is alive in quotes which is such a beautiful in terms of you know thinking it's such a beautiful concept. I have a year old daughter and I'm constantly watching her intrigued with things that move and then when that whatever it is if it's a pencil that I've put on the floor and it's moving and I pick it up and take it away there is a real sense of loss I think I don't know if one could be is a clear cut and say that you know she's thinking of terms of life and death I don't think you know obviously when you're when you're probably not consciously but only but obviously the beginnings of of the sense of of something not being there and hence not being a lawyer has already begun. But certainly in your books I think you
get this sense so clearly is that the pliant and Jenny are talking to each other and Jenny is a dog. And dogs do talk and they talk to ply and so I certainly thought right. And why should they talk about you know to each other which is really such a beautiful union there. The other thing Marie said I sort of like to explore a little bit in your conception of your books. What what comes first is it. Isn't it sort of a very definite visual world that touches you first and then it's translated into language. Or is this a simultaneous thing between word an image from space. You know it's not a visual thing at all. Oddly enough since I began my career as a book illustrator and it's just barely in terms of words it is more an emotion or an idea. It was just storms and drunks within until it takes a form of its own. It's a very vague emotion practically
But when it does make its appearance it does rise up to consciousness. It takes is for immediately as words and not as pictures at all. And this I know is true because often when I finish the book and then have to illustrate it I very disgruntled often of what I have to illustrate. Just as I am when I'm illustrating somebody else's book. Certain parts of it come along which are disagreeable to me. This is happened in my own books. And you sort of feel the tension between the word in the and the right a graphic right thing pulling at each other in terms of music. I remember I was sort of an interview of you once where you spoke very very clearly about the place of music in your work and it intrigued me because it's even intrigued me more hearing you talk about the things your conception of the work begins with almost a vague idea I was almost ready for you to say a musical feeling in the work it's very clear that you're conscious of mood and the placement of mood and how to handle mood and which
obviously can only come from somebody who's involved music. Well actually one of the first conscious passions of my life was music and I probably thought when I was a young adolescent I would be a musician. This is the first wishes you know and I didn't of course I did not have the talent. And I think my work now Lou is in large an attempt to emulate music or get as close to the musical production as one can possibly in words and pictures and my favorite reading is composers lives actually and studying how operas which I'm a great opera buff come about and I'm just reading a biography of Wagner at this very moment and I find it almost too exciting to read because his creation say of the Ring cycle and how he had the stories of the gods all written out and then had to compose the music for it. And I very often found himself lacking or not ready to compose what he'd written. It is very often like
I'm not comparing myself at all actually but saying that I know if I'm not ready to illustrate what I've written but his music acts as a flooding atmospheric addition to what he's written and my pictures hopefully of the same kind of thing I'm just enlarging on what I've written here. I suppose simply what I'm saying is don't try and make believe I'm writing an opera and I know that I'm not but I'd like to use all the imagery possible to convince myself I am. And of course musical rhythms and musical sounds and musical colors I have tried successfully and to recreate in graphics very very music comes from it comes through the books very strongly and that is almost when you are speaking of what came to mind is that in them. In his Olympic only pop where you have the whole last section where there are no words at all just just Jenny acting on the stage. One gets a sense is that it's if one could draw the
analogy that it's the orchestra has stopped playing and it's a solo violin. One of the happiest things I was able to write and I was it was the only it is the only book I've written where I actually say a boisterous overture is played where I could use the word come out right in the open and say I've written an overture to my play. And then I wrote accompanying music to the drama which of course needless to say is not recorded. You know can you hear when you read the book but it was in my head you know very much so as as I wrote the play and the rhythm the beat of the words Take a leaf it we part with dog is eating them up. We're you know composed and you know actually and then how the play folds and the action on the stage is largely a rhythmic thing for me. And it's a tremendous help to me. You know really if I can get back to that one last element of which I spoke of your use of graphic work which puts aside words temporary. I think this seems to me
to speak so clearly in a very direct and indirect way. That there is a very definite thing called the imagination. And by God let's use it. I think again in our society we are so verbal e word conscious. Everything has to be explained. Where is suddenly you come in this whole second fiddle of it where there is no explanation. It's it's you the reader who draws a conclusion again is this something that you very consciously were attempting to sort of bring out. Yes without question there are people who have read the book and they will say very ostentatiously Well what were you trying to say I don't quite get the point. I don't know I mean I don't care particularly I I succeeded in whatever I was doing but I'm not I'm not able to explain the book and indifferent to that I'm not here as issue of explaining the book. It's up to you. You know absolutely there are many things in the book hopefully and that
is just leaving it up to your imagination you know. I have great fun with mine and when mine is having a hang up and is not functioning I'm miserable you know. But I know when it is functioning so why not let everybody exercise you know their imagination the best they can. It means not having to ask questions. Yes you know and that's a problem in our time. I don't question what we're seeing the results of and I think to what also is said without definitely cause being said is that you're not writing for children. You're writing I think for me right. Marie send I think yeah right I mean that's what being an artist is hopefully you know. I'm using this. I'm giving something to me giving something to other people is incredibly beautiful. I mean getting letters from children and winning prizes is very nice. I mean I won't deny that for a minute but first and foremost is the wonderment of having accomplished this for myself. Yeah. I'm not aware of
children. I don't read to children. I don't really even worry about that criticism because my audience is not limited to children. It speaks it speaks directly to people and that's you know that's the thing which I think that I think there's always been this to enormous misconception about children's books. They are only for children I'm just going by what he said recently in the early part of the program and which is obviously not the case of great children's books I think I think right the ones that really succeed are the ones that speak across all levels. Not everyone will accept the fact that Alice in Wonderland is a book and not a children's book. It is only in our time that we've been stamped children's book writers and illustrators which is degrading a large degree and it's great for the child too because yeah it pushes him into an age category where you know just come hell or high water he's not going to stay in anyway. And it also says to the child this is only what you can absorb and only what you. And we know that that yes or dwindle little brain can't go much beyond this.
And of course he's saying the hell with you. You know if he doesn't there's something wrong with it. Yes. And I think again if I can just that I can see that our time is just about up but perhaps as just as a way of of summing this up I think your books speak eloquently of the fact that the imagination knows no boundaries. That in itself it is the key to the explaining of so many things and it becomes a symbol it becomes a way of entering into a world which is very obviously the real world the world that is you know the key to the whole business of living. And it's saying to a child you've got this key don't lose it. Recent I'd like to thank you very very much. Thank you. And I hope certainly that those who hear the program will go running and read some more of those books of us. Thank you. You've been listening to Richard Lewis and his guest Maurice Sendak illustrator and author of
higgledy piggledy prop or there must be more to life and where the Wild Things Are both issued by Harper and Row. Mr. Davis and Mr. Sendak discussed fantasy and children's literature. Richard Lewis is the author of five volumes of poetry for children. He edited the recent miracles and the wind and the rain. Two collections of poetry by children published by Simon and Schuster. And out of the earth I sing the poetry of primitive peoples issued by Norton for a free summary of this program. Write to WRVA our department B New York New York 1 0 0 2 7. Please enclose a stamped self-addressed envelope. This is been directions in children's literature. The final programme in a series of 12 with Richard Lewis and leading authorities in the field of children's literature directions in children's literature was produced by Richard Lewis and Cyril Peters for WRVA are the FM station of the Riverside Church in New York City. This program was distributed by the national educational radio network.
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