I wrote this piece for the March/April 2012 SCBWI Bulletin. They are kindly letting me post it here as well.
Among the very first books that I ever touched, were the five Little Bear books by Else Holmelund Minarik and illustrated by Maurice Sendak. The bittersweet episode in which Little Bear thinks his mother has forgotten about his birthday was especially fascinating to me as a young child. The story is touching and beautifully told, but what really got into my guts, and stayed there forever, are those perfect ink drawings. The disappointment you could see on Little Bear's expressions; the different personalities of Hen, Duck, and Cat; the melancholy of the humble birthday soup: all this is illuminated by Sendak's pen in such a sensitive manner. The last time I took a good look at those drawings was years ago, but if I close my eyes I can still see them so clearly.
As an adolescent, I began imagining for myself a future as a visual storyteller of some kind. Looking around for inspiration, I encountered Hieronymus Bosch, Alfred Kubin, Elzie Crisler Segar, George Herriman, Wilhelm Busch, and other artists in various fields. Since I didn't go through any kind of formal education to speak of, these people and their work were fundamental in my artistic progress, for better or worse. But when I sat down at my table to learn how to use that wonderful drafting tool that is the dip pen, I knew what to keep near at hand: Maurice Sendak's drawings.
In Italy, where I was born and grew up, most of Sendak's books were not nearly as popular as they were in the United States and elsewhere in the world. Only when I moved to New York in the mid nineties did I fully understand the range and importance of his work. I began collecting his books, which kept me company on my path to the profession.
One day in February of 2011, opening the mailbox to clear it up from the usual utility bills and advertisements, I found a curious item: a letter. It was addressed to me, and bore the letterhead The Sendak Fellowship. I opened it, expecting to read a request for a donation to a children's literacy program or something of that nature. Instead, the letter was an invitation to spend four weeks in Connecticut, in a house a few steps from Maurice Sendak's, in the fall. I would be given a studio where to work on my projects, if I felt like it. In fact, there was no obligation to produce anything specific, or anything at all. In addition to this, and to me most importantly, I would have a chance to meet Maurice Sendak. Maurice Sendak! I said yes, but I was scared.
The notion that Sendak actually knew my books enough to invite me to his place was unsettling. I have always been afraid that one day I'll hear a knock at the door and some stranger in a uniform, an Art Police officer, will notify me of my lack of qualifications and therefore my Display Comments Add a Comment