Thursday, September 20, 2012


Mabel Watson Payne recently picked from her own shelf and asked me to read one of the earliest Little Bear books – a series I originally read with my daughter in the late 70s and early 80s. Both author and artist died just this year after long productive lives. Else Holmelund Minarik (1920-2012) wrote the stories and Maurice Sendak (1928-2012) made the pictures.

It was a shock just now to discover that the first Little Bear was published in 1957 – when I was only five years old. How odd that I belonged to the exact generation of children for whom this work was conceived. Odd and heartbreaking, if one's heart could still break over ancient deprivations. My family did not own books, except for certain gaudy and pious collections of Bible stories. It would be another quarter century before I would have the chance independently to discover the Sendak/Minarik masterpieces.

My daughter and I read the Little Bear books many hundreds of times, even long after she could read them for herself. Reliable amusements (if we wanted amusing). Reliable comforts (if we wanted comforting). And now here is Mabel, already prompting me to launch into them all over again.

In gratefulness I sought out the handful of additional, random and dearly familiar Sendak illustrations below.

Immediately above, a portrait of the artist as a young man – still in his twenties – in New York.