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In Grandpa's House

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Many people are familiar with Maurice Sendak as a children's author and illustrator. This book is written by his father Philip Sendak with illustrations by Maurice. Nearly every story by Maurice Sendak seems to be influenced by his own childhood and the sadness and fragility he felt as a child. He often writes about a child in danger and there is often a “dark” quality to the stories. The Sendak home was not a happy one. Philip was traumatised by events in his life and by discovering that his extended family left behind in Poland had all died in the Holocaust. Sarah suffered from depression. Their misery and “craziness” filtered down to Sendak and he believed that this led him to become an artist and influenced the type of artist he was.

Maurice asked his father many times to write a story, but Philip found that when he tried “nothing came”. This book is, in fact, a story inside a story. The words have been taken from many pages of handwritten notes in Yiddish that Philip Sendak wrote. He first describes how he came to leave his native Poland and his family in order to start a new life in America. This story is is simply written and does not and probably never could fully describe the emotional traumas suffered during his lifetime.

The other story is a fantasy translated from the original Yiddish in which a small child has been left alone and desperate to find his mother and father. The young boy (David) goes through a series of very odd and often frightening events, helped by a huge talking bird. Finally David visits his grandfather in heaven and learns the meaning of his travels. He is returned from heaven to be reunited with his parents.

Maurice's illustrations throughout the book are in his familiar style with perhaps an added dimension because he was illustrating his own father's work. In each picture the reader can spot the little boy's grandfather watching over him as he goes through his adventures.

In Grandpa's House” is a dark story, but Philip Sendak gave it a happy ending. Having read a little of the Sendak history I am sure he would have wished the same for his own family.

Contributed by Nicky


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