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This Miniature Form

By June 10, 2015Blog

MOYERS: Is writing books like this something like guerilla warfare?

SENDAK: Yes. That’s well said. Because you’re really fighting yourself
all the way along the line. And I don’t know… I never set out to
write books for children. I don’t have a feeling that I’m gonna save
children or my life is devoted.

I’m not Hans Christian Anderson. Nobody’s gonna make a statue in the
park with a lot of scrambling kids climbing up me. I won’t have it,
okay? So, what is it… and I got a clue. I was watching a channel on

And they had Christa Ludwig who was a great opera singer back… I saw
her in Europe. She’s now retiring.

And then, she had a surprising interview at the end of the concert
where the guy… she said, “It’s so good now.”

And then, he said, “But, why do you like Schubert? You always sing
Schubert.” And he sort of faintly condemned Schubert. “I mean, he’s so
simple. He’s just a Viennese waltzes.” And she smiled. And she said,
“Schubert is so big, so delicate, but what he did was pick a form that
looked so humble and quiet so that he could crawl into that form and
explode emotionally, find every way of expressing every emotion in
this miniature form.”

And I got very excited. And I wondered is it possible that’s why I do
children’s books? I picked a modest form which was very modest back in
the ’50s and ’40s. I mean, children’s books were the bottom end of the
totem pole. We didn’t even get invited to grownup book parties at

MOYERS: And men didn’t do. I mean, it was a woman’s world, wasn’t it?

SENDAK: It was a woman’s world.

MOYERS: Yeah, men were not supposed to enter the child’s…

SENDAK: And you were suspect the minute you were at a party, “What do
you do?” “I do books with children.” “Ah, I’m sure my wife would like
to talk to you.” It was always that way. It was always. And then when
we succeeded, that’s when they dumped the women. Because once there’s
money, the guys can come down and screw the whole thing up which is
what they did. They ruined the whole business. I remember those days.
And they were absolutely so beautiful. But, my thought was… that’s
what I did. I didn’t have much confidence in myself… never. And so,
I hid inside, like Christa was saying, this modest form called the
children’s book and expressed myself entirely.

I wasn’t gonna paint. And I wasn’t gonna do ostentatious drawings. I
wasn’t gonna have gallery pictures. I was gonna hide somewhere where
nobody would find me and express myself entirely. I’m like a guerilla
warfare in my best books.

Bill Moyers PBS interview with Maurice Sendak.