OUTSIDE OVER THERE by Maurice Sendak


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"When Papa was away at sea/ And Mama in the arbor/ Ida played her wonder horn/ to rock the baby still/ but never watched." Sendak's latest picture book recalls Where the Wild Things Are in the way it plunges us into the stream of a child's life, without a preliminary word. As in The Wild Things and In the Night Kitchen, the words throughout are few, reverberant, and rhythmic in a fluent, self-contained way that never deigns, here, to quite fulfill our ears' expectations. Here the poetry is more subtly charged, suggestive, and almost hypnotic--an effect that is reinforced by these more complex pictures, which abandon cartoons to communicate and interact with the story from within the traditions of painting. What happens when Ida is not watching is that two faceless, hooded figures--familiar from previous Sendak work, as are other images here--appear at the window and "pull the baby out." The monstrous, stating changeling they leave in her place turns to ice in Ida's arms, whereupon she dons her mother's yellow raincoat and flies off--literally, though it looks more like floating, against agitated clouds, lost and awkward in the elaborate golden folds of some old drapery master's madonna cloak. (One wonders, at times, how these art-historical references relate to the emotional content of the story.) In any case, Ida is off to retrieve her sister from the goblins, who would marry the baby to one of their nasty company. But then the sinister goblins prove to be only babies, and Ida charms them and makes them "dancing sick" with a captivating tune. (The dancing goblin babies' expressions, from innocent delight to one sly smirk, are a study in themselves.) Returning safe through tranquil soft-toned countryside, Ida seems to be heading toward a Rackhamesque tree about to pounce--but not so. Butterflies flit softly around the tree, and off to the left behind the path Ida has passed, Mozart sits serenely in a little shelter, unremarked. Scarcely a spread is without a vista of the sea, with a ship in the distance and a storm that is most violent at the kidnapping and gives way to soft blue skies at the end. There's much to see, much to feel, much to follow, and all of it beautifully integrated. Whether it has the direct, elemental strength of Sendak's previous picture books is less certain.
Pub Date: April 22nd, 1981
ISBN: 0060255234
Page count: 40pp
Publisher: Harper & Row
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1981

MAURICE SENDAK, 1928-2012:

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