“We are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy” by Maurice Sendak

I’m a lifetime fan of Maurice Sendak. I still have my childhood copy of “Where the Wild Things Are.” I bought “We are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy” when it came out in 1993, but I hadn’t looked at it in years. I pulled it off the shelf today and read it twice, puzzling.

Two obscure nursery rhymes are tied together to form a loose structure for the story told in pictures. Children of varied skin colors, including white Jack and Guy, live in a shantytown of cardboard boxes. Adult-size rats steal their kittens and a brown-skinned toddler. The moon intervenes as a huge cat, rescuing the kittens and baby, which Jack and Guy adopt.

The kids wrap themselves in newspapers which have clearly legible headlines about real estate prices and consumerism in one illustration, and layoffs and homelessness in another. Even though this book was published almost 20 years ago, it is painfully apt today.

From this link I learned that Maurice Sendak’s parents were Jews who emigrated from Poland, and that he is gay. From this link I learned that the Wild Things are based on the relatives who visited when he was a child.

This book evokes relief because it does not pretend everything is okay, even as it introduces hope and rescue. At the same time, the disjointed, allusive story leaves me puzzled, unsettled.

Edited to add: A recent interview with Maurice Sendak.

Available at Powell’s Books.

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