Think Illustrator Maurice Sendak, and I’m sure “Where the Wild Things Are” is the first thing to come to mind. I tend towards some of Sendak’s lesser known favorites, like “Pierre: A Cautionary Tale in Five Chapters and a Prologue” (which I just used to help teach my 3 year old the virtues of caring, or rather the perils of not caring) and this little gem of children’s lit and illustration “Higglety Pigglety Pop! Or, There Must Be More to Life.”
Sendak wrote this book to deal with the death of his beloved Sealyham Terrier, Jennie. You might remember her from “Where the Wild Things Are” as she has cameos in a few of Sendak’s books. And if the real Jennie was anything like the salami and pancake loving Jennie in “”Higglety Pigglety Pop..” then she was quite the character. Jennie is a dog who has everything. Discontented, she goes out in the world to find something she doesn’t have. When she comes across a pig wearing a sandwich board advertising an opening for a Leading Lady in the World Mother Goose Theater she jumps at the opportunity. But there’s one hitch, the job requires someone with experience. One thing Jennie does not have.
When I was in high school I used to read this book to my brother who is eleven years younger than me and I’m not sure who enjoyed those read-alouds more…the child or the teenaged big sister. Sendak’s signature pen and ink style became a major inspiration to me as a young designer and illustrator, encouraged my interest in etching (which often uses similar drawing techniques), and showed me that with a little imagination an artist can take something small (a brief nursery rhyme bearing the a portion of the book title in this case) and spin it into a sweeping visual and literary narrative. Whimsical yet dark, this book speaks to that childhood, teenage, and well…even that grown-up…desire to take risks, seek more, and find out what the great big world and that “castle yonder” hold for us all.
Filled with crazy characters—an ornery baby who refuses to eat, a milkman who is also a cat, a very hungry lion, and the equally food-obsessed Jennie, this book offers quirky quips that you are sure to find yourself quoting after the reading is done. The warmly detailed illustrations, never fail to suck me in and the story is just plain charming. I mean who wouldn’t love an adorable but spoiled dog, who is put through her paces and ends her story with this: “As you probably noticed, I went away forever. I am very experienced now and very famous. I am even a star. Every day I eat a mop, twice on Saturday. It is made of salami and that is my favorite.”
Maurice Sendak’s work has taught me that to illustrate something is to do more than just re-interpret the words on the page as a companion visual. True illustration illuminates the text, bringing additional dimensions to the story and stylistically branding the narrative at the same time.