The Daily Heller: Sendak’s Rabbits Multiplied = Ten Little Rabbits

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Yesterday, Maurice Sendak’s Ten Little Rabbits, a posthumous picture book, was published. Happy are those who have missed Sendak’s gifts.

When Mino the Magician waves his wand, poof, a rabbit appears. Another wave, and out springs a second, and then a third. By the fourth rabbit, Mino yawns. With the sixth, he’s annoyed. By the ninth, he’s exasperated, as the rabbits crawl all over him. What did he expect? They are rabbits. Mino conjures them back, one by one, allowing young readers the chance to count up and back again. This is purported to be just one of Sendak’s “lost” or unknown manuscripts, and this interview with Lynn Caponera, Executive Director of The Maurice Sendak Foundation, hints about things to come.

This lost Sendak book is simple and charming. Why was Ten Little Rabbits not published before this? Was it ever considered for publication while Maurice was alive?
When Maurice passed away, he left all his original artwork to his foundation. He knew that one of our blessed responsibilities would be to care for the massive amount of work he created over his lifetime—his childhood drawings, sketchbooks, dummies, everything up to just about every one of his books. This was a man who worked nonstop his whole life. So, you can imagine the totality of his archive.

With Ten Little Rabbits, the decision to publish it was easy. It was a completed work whose first incarnation was in 1961 to be one of the volumes in the Nutshell Library. As Maurice went deeper into that project he decided to go in a more elaborate direction with Nutshell. 

In 1970 he decided to go back to the 1961 drawings he did, and out of that created the 1970 tiny version he made for a fundraiser for The Rosenbach Museum and Library. This version is even smaller than the Nutshells; the 1970 version was soft-covered and stapled together. Basically, a sweet little pamphlet that goes back to Maurice’s early exquisitely beautiful dummies that he created for each book.

During Maurice’s lifetime he very often would go back to early sketches or projects he began that got waylaid for something else. In fact, even Wild Things came out of one of these early sketches. Over the 40 years that I was privileged to look over his shoulder while he worked, we would talk about his work and what makes a great book. Maurice made this very easy for us—he would say, “you’ll know what to do,” and thankfully because of his constant tutoring we know what he would have wanted. 

So, the idea that Ten Little Rabbits is a lost work isn’t actually correct.

He was a genius when it came to engaging the adult reader and, therefore, the child too. This is a great book to read over and over—was that Maurice’s intent?
Yes, I think the more you read it you fall in love with Mino. Maurice’s line in this book is so reminiscent of A Hole is to Dig, which is still after all these years a favorite of young and old alike. 

Are there any more unpublished gems in the vaults?