Brian Alderson is saying goodbye to his books as he donates his remarkable collection of children’s books to Seven Stories. His latest gift is a special edition of a classic by that genius of children’s books, Maurice Sendak. NB, we are copying the numbering of Blackwell’s Joy Street to avoid the number following 12!
I first bought Sendak’s Nutshell Library in a gallery in Upper Regent Street round about December 1962. It had only just been published by Harper & Row in the United States but at that time they had a London office and were showing some of their US publications. (It was first published in England by Collins in 1964.)
In his admirable and delightful selection of the letters of Maurice Sendak’s editor, Ursula Nordstrom, Leonard Marcus includes a long, but informal, attempt on her part to allay the author’s worries about competitors pinching the ‘Nutshell’ idea. In his annotation, Marcus notes not only that in a little over a year the Library had sold 100,000 copies but that Sendak’s aim had been ‘to stand the moralistic children’s literature of the past on its head’. That may well have been the case for what he gives us is an entertaining compendium of some first essentials for the young child reader: an alphabet book with alligators engaged in human activities (‘Bursting balloons…Catching colds’); a counting book where Johnny finds his room filling up with animals which he then gets rid of by counting backwards; the months of the year all of which are good for eating chicken soup with rice; and a genius work of fiction: the story of Pierre, a boy devoted to saying ‘I don’t care’ and thus getting eaten by a lion. I don’t know about selling a hundred thousand copies, it surely ought to be a birthday gift for every child.
That would certainly seem to have been the idea of Sendak’s Swiss publisher who in 1970 commissioned the translation into German by Hans Manz (a pseudonym?). As it turns out, Sendak’s American phraseology allows for quite a natural transfer to the target language or else a swapping around of pictures. Thus ‘Catching colds’ is untranslatable using the letter ‘c’ and has been replaced by the illustration from ‘y’ to which Manz has been able to create a new caption ‘Chaufferen Chevrolets nach China’. This then requires another illustration (taken from ‘s’ and again given a Manz caption: ‘Yvan zankt mit Yves und Yolanda’ and so the swapping goes on.
With ‘Chicken Soup’ and ‘1 is Johnny’ the texts are rhymed and keep the original picture sequence but allow the phrasing to be manipulated, ‘Chicken Soup’ for instance refashioning some of the verses and the concluding refrain. As for the original Pierre, chosen, as noted above, to rhyme with ‘I don’t care’, he has to be re-christened Klaus in order to rhyme with ‘Ich mache mir nichts draus!’
Hanrahan does not note any other attempts at translation but does say that Diogenes published a copy of ‘Chicken Soup’ in large format in German in 1977. The daft idea of publishing the Library as a set of four quite separate volumes in large format, thus negating its whole purpose, would appear to be down to some editorializing by Collins in London.
Brian Alderson is a long-time and much-valued contributor to Books for Keeps, founder of the Children’s Books History Society and a former Children’s Books Editor for The Times. His most recent book The 100 Best Children’s Books is published by Galileo Publishing, 978-1903385982, £14.99 hbk.
Nutshell Library, Maurice Sendak, HarperCollins Children’s Books, 978-0060255008, £19.92 from Amazon
Maurice Sendak. Hexagonal slip-case 90x35x70mm. open to one side. Three 3-colour illustrations within decorative frames, lettered DIE MINI-BIBLIOTHEK von Maurice Sendak.
Containing 4 books page-size uniformly 85x60mm. Variably placed 3-colour illus. and titling cartouches throughout. Yellowy-orange paper over boards with b/w image to front; blank endpapers; dust-jackets. Hanrahan. pp.60, 61
[i] Alligatoren allȕberal; ein Alphabet von Maurice Sendak deutsch von Hans Manz.[Zűrich] Diogenes Verlag, 1970. 48pp.
[ii] 1 war Hans; ein Zahlbuch,,,[as above]… pp.
[iii] Hühnersuppe mit Reis; ein Buch mit den Monaten …[as above]… 32pp.
[I] KLAUS. Ein warnendes Beispiel …[as above]…48pp.
Dear Genius (Harper Collins, 1998)