It hit me like a ton of bricks Tuesday afternoon, “Maurice Sendak dead at age 83.” The news broke through heavy chatter at a busy nearby store. Rarely do I ever hear TV in the background. But those few words pierced through. Why did they affect me so acutely? Much has been written about Sendak these last few days, especially praising his enormous influence on children’s literature. He turned the genre on its heels. Remember “Run Spot, Run?” Safe, predictable, compatible with mainstream social norms. Sendak fundamentally changed all of that with gritty, edgy storytelling.
So, when I began illustrating my first children’s picture book a few years ago, I pulled just one item from my library shelves – Sendak’s, “Where the Wild Things Are.” After all, he’s often referred to as the greatest children’s writer/illustrator of the 20th century. I have no formal training as an artist, and I’d never written for children. It made sense to look more closely into Sendak’s work for ideas.
Page by page, mischievous young Max enters a magical world. Detail by detail, the landscape morphs from his simple room to a wild, magical landscape. I had no idea how to write such a compelling story in few words accompanied by luminous images. It took me 2 years to create Sunbelievable, always returning to Maurice and Max for inspiration.
No surprise, then, that one of the main characters in Sunbelievable is a bossy, skeptical young girl who questions everything. She and her sister imagine the most preposterous antics of a magical Sun. Their bedtime defies sleep as they invent whacky, wondrous tales of a Sun that eats pizza and teaches fireflies to shine. As I learned how to blend the girls’ real photos into digital backgrounds, the artist in me emerged – an adventure I never anticipated.
The awards Sunbelievable receive for storytelling and illustration completely surprise and overwhelm me. My co-author son Daniel, and my co-illustrator, Frank Thompson, helped make the magic happen. I’m told that the image above evokes Sendak’s quirky style – a blending of truth and fantasy that transforms reality. I took the photo near Holmdel and digitally created this scene of a little girl peering curiously into a “wild” horizon.
An 8-year old boy wrote, “Dear Mr. Sendak, how much does it cost to get to where the wild things are? If it is not expensive, my sister and I would like to spend the summer there.” Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/09/books/maurice-sendak-childrens-author-dies-at-83.html?pagewanted=all
Sunbelievable is surely a tribute to Mr. Sendak’s emboldened imagination and wondrous legacy for generations of children. That’s what stopped me in my tracks when I heard the news – his powerful vision, like his stories, will live forever.