October 21, 2017

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The Story Behind a Newly Discovered Sendak Manuscript

Illustration from Presto and Zesto in Limboland (Photo credit: ©2017 by the Maurice Sendak Foundation)

Even though beloved children’s author and illustrator Maurice Sendak died in 2012, the world will soon have a new book of his to enjoy. On July 6, Publishers Weekly broke the story that Lynn Caponera, president of the Maurice Sendak Foundation, had discovered a manuscript and drawings of a forgotten book by Sendak. Caponera shared the book, Presto and Zesto in Limboland, with Sendak’s longtime editor, Michael di Capua, who plans to publish it in 2018 under his imprint at HarperCollins.

Sendak cowrote the book with fellow kid lit author and longtime friend Arthur Yorinks in 1990 after Yorinks saw the artwork that Sendak had created for a London Symphony Orchestra performance of Leoš Janáček’s Ríkadla. Yorinks thought the illustrations would be a good basis for a book, and Presto and Zesto in Limboland was conceived during a laughter-filled afternoon at Sendak’s Ridgefield, CT, home.

“It was an unplanned birth,” Yorinks says. “We were looking at the pictures, and like two jazz guys, we began improvising and telling stories to each other.” Yorinks was taking notes and later wrote it out. “At some point, we declared it to be done,” he says.

Presto and Zesto are nicknames that the two gave each other after Yorinks moved into a community near Sendak’s neighborhood. Sendak dubbed Yorinks Presto when he knocked on Sendak’s door after an unexpectedly short trip over from his new home. Yorinks responded with the name Zesto for Sendak.

Their friendship had begun many years earlier with a knock on a door. At the age of 17, the young Yorinks went to Sendak’s Manhattan home and knocked on the door, wanting to discuss 19th-century literature. Sendak was gracious to the teenager, and the meeting was the beginning of a lifelong friendship that lasted more than 40 years. During that time, the two coauthored The Miami Giant (HarperCollins, 1995) and Mommy? (Scholastic, 2006).

Presto and Zesto in Limboland is about surviving in a mixed-up world. The characters find themselves stuck in Limboland, and the only way out is to get a wedding present for two sugar beets. The two set off to find the perfect gift—a set of bagpipes from a Limboland monster.

Yorinks, whose books include Hey, Al (1986), It Happened in Pinsk (1983), and Oh, Brother (1989, all Farrar), just released his first graphic novel in June, Making Scents (First Second, 2017). Like Presto and Zesto, Mickey in Making Scents is a survivor who must be true to himself.

At first, Yorinks says he feared the graphic novel format, but soon learned that it was similar to writing a script, an area in which he has experience.

Yorinks is thankful for Caponera’s efforts to keep the Sendak legacy alive. “The foundation is doing a terrific job and is devoted to Maurice and his work,” he says. However, he finds the discovery to be bittersweet, since Sendak isn’t here to enjoy it.

“Reading the manuscript, it came flooding back how Arthur and Maurice had been working on how to tie the images together,” says Caponera. “It’s such a wonderful gift to hear Maurice and Arthur’s voices again in this hilarious, sweet story.”

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Rocco Staino About Rocco Staino

Rocco Staino @RoccoA is the retired director of the Keefe Library of the North Salem School District in New York. He is now a contributing editor for School Library Journal and also writes for the Huffington Post.

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