May 24, 2007

Maurice Sendak On The Revolutionary Nature Of The Carrot Seed


Having this library copy of The Carrot Seed in the house got me to digging for more Ruth Krauss and Crockett Johnson titles. Maurice Sendak gets a big shoutout on the dustjacket, too, and it turns out Sendak illustrated several of Krauss's books. It seemed like an unlikely pairing; Sendak's mature, maximalist line drawings from In The Night Kitchen or Where The Wild Things Are seemed like the polar opposite of Johnson's irreducibly simple line drawings.

Then I came across this 2005 essay by Sendak about The Carrot Seed and the Krauss-Johnson-Sendak connection in The Horn Book, a journal about children's books:

There is no doubt in my mind that The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss and Crockett Johnson was a remarkable breakthrough book. The terrible war ended in 1945 and this harmless-looking book was published at the same time — harmless-looking perhaps, but revolutionary in content. Here we have a real boy standing up for what he believes against a mother and father and an older brother. A new boy: daring and stubborn, but respectful. (We’d already met him in Johnson’s extraordinary comic books — he was called Barnaby.) A product, no doubt, of a renewed fascination with child psychology and an endless interest in Freud.
Freud?? Well that explains the size of the carrot. Turns out a teenaged Sendak basically adopted the older couple as his Connecticut-living, Long Island Sound-sailing mentor/parents. The rest is bookwriting history.

It always blows me away to find out about the political, personal, and cultural turmoil that swirls around the creation of such simple, innocuous, enjoyable little children's books. Or to hear them called "revolutionary." [The Story of Ferdinand is another one; there's a massive, sensational, and largely forgotten story of that book's early years.]


But the more I read and hear Maurice Sendak outside of his books, the more I come to believe that he's a deeply weird and disturbed dude. Who has an incredibly dark, complicated view of childhood that's at odds with the relentlessly upbeat princess and sunshine model that holds sway these days. Whenever I flinch at reading the kid a story about getting baked into a cake or eaten by a lion, I have to remind myself that I apparently ate that stuff up as a kid, too. Still, weird, weird dude.

Maurice Sendak on The Carrot Book, The Horn Book, Mar/Apr 2005 []
An Interview with Maurice Sendak, The Horn Book, Nov/Dec 2003 [] rescued The Carrot Seed: The Record from oblivion, whiny song and all []
Previously: Kid Gets Library Card, Checks Out The Carrot Seed
The Story Of The Story Of Ferdinand


sometimes a carrot is just a carrot...

I have to say that there are MANY authors out there who are, in a word, strange. And Maurice Sendak is probably one of them. I mean, have you read "Outside Over There?" Now THAT is a messed up book.

But I loved it as a child and messed up author or not, I still adore "Where the Wild Things Are" and "In the Night Kitchen" which will both be a part of my children's personal libraries.

I'm sure we can find a deeper meaning in every book if we look hard enough, but sometimes it's good to just enjoy :O)

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