Sendak exhibition tames monsters at Danbury LibraryDANBURY -- Near the entrance to an exhibition at Danbury Public Library, half a dozen pen-size, bearded goblins work together to heave a wailing baby off the floor of his crib and sneak him away into the night.
The imaginative illustrations of author Maurice Sendak -- a bird the size of a small car, a young boy parading through a city of food boxes and milk cartons -- have captivated young audiences for generations.
His 1963 picture book, "Where the Wild Things Are," about a boy named Max who conquers the terrifying monsters of his imagination, has been a favorite of children for nearly 50 years.
The exhibit, "In a Nutshell: The Worlds of Maurice Sendak," opened May 14 at the library, and is scheduled to run through June 24. It details how Sendak's picture books were a way to conquer his own monsters.
Mark Hasskarl, library director, said he and the other committee members applied for the exhibit because they wanted to showcase an exhibit that celebrated Jewish culture. The American Library was offering three such programs, including "In a Nutshell.""The Sendak one appealed to me and everyone on the committee because we liked his books so much," Hasskarl said. "I came to them late, not until I was in my 20s, and I began reading them to my daughter after she was born."
Sendak was born in Brooklyn to Polish Jewish immigrants who had fled Europe to escape the Nazis. As a child, he was horrified to learn that his relatives who remained in Poland all died in concentration camps.
The exhibit displays many of the iconic illustrations from Sendak's books and explains how, through illustrations and tales of adventure, Sendak attempted to recreate the splendor of the Old World in Poland and come to grips with its destruction.
Danbury Library was the only library in Connecticut able to secure a visit from the traveling exhibition, which will tour 35 libraries nationally and include stops in Colorado, Florida, and North Carolina.
Hasskarl said he believes Danbury was chosen because of the special programming for adults he has planned to supplement the exhibit, which will include a screening of the film adaptation of "Where the Wild Things Are" followed by a presentation by Hasskarl on June 10 at 6:45 p.m.
Visitors to the exhibit will see how memories of Sendak's childhood in Brooklyn deeply impacted his creations. Each display showcases illustrations from a different set of Sendak's books, and they show how watching children play outside the window of his Brooklyn apartment and observing playground bullies who targeted Jewish children informed the characters of his picture books.
Patricia Gilbert, who visited the exhibit Monday afternoon, said she hadn't had any idea of the personal background that went into Sendak's stories.
"It's fascinating. It makes me want to read them all," said Gilbert, who has read "Where the Wild Things Are" with her grandchildren. "You see so many layers in him now, and you didn't get that before. Those personal demons, all parents have that."
Hasskarl said while "In a Nutshell" is geared to adults, children will certainly enjoy Sendak's vivid illustrations.
"In many of (his books), he writes about things that often scawre children," Hasskarl said. "And when kids see that they survive their encounter with the wild things, it helps them work through the core of those fears."
According to Hasskarl, who knows the author and illustrator personally, the exhibit offers a rare view of Sendak's personal history.
"We've actually talked more about some of his favorite movies" than about his books, Hasskarl said, adding that Sendak is a big fan of Disney's animated film "Pinnochio."
For any readers who have wondered what kind of awful human beings could have inspired the fanged monsters in "Where the Wild Things Are," the exhibit "In a Nutshell" provides an insightful glimpse into the writer's mind.