The Horn Book reviews My Brother’s Book
Some of Sendak’s most poignant themes take on even more resonance and universality. Holocaust references, while still present, are not explicit. Eating, or being eaten by, a powerful figure now involves a bear—not Shakespeare’s, exactly, but a polar bear that is intrinsic to the brothers’ transfiguration. As the ultimate not-for-little-children Sendak, this profoundly personal book about loss and healing should find its audience among thoughtful adults (and perhaps some teenagers).
After reading that final sentence, I feel at a loss for words. One of the top publications about children’s books in the world just told us this is not a book for children, but only for adults and some teenagers.
Should children not read, or be read to, stories about loss and healing? Are they exempt from those human, all too human, experiences? Should we hide from them every feeling but happiness? Ridiculous. There is as much for children in My Brother’s Book as there is for anyone else. I’ve read it almost a dozen times and I’ve not found a single thing in it that a child cannot appreciate or understand, especially if they’ve already been exposed to Mother Goose rhymes, fairy tales, and Sendak’s other picturebooks.
Even if we assume The Horn Book is right (I know many people will think so), it’s still ridiculous to include a sentence like that. A reviewer shouldn’t have to tell us whether or not a book is appropriate for children, because, if a reviewer does her job right, it will be readily apparent in the review itself! She will have covered the important points: some plot summary, judgment on the text and illustrations, how the book stacks up against similar books, etc. Armed with such knowledge, parents can then decide whether or not it’s appropriate for their children (it should go without saying parents should be the only ones making such a decision).
I’m sorry to go on like this. It’s just so damn disappointing to think a child might be kept away from such a rich work of art because of a misguided review. I guess I shouldn’t expect better at this point. But I will never tire of saying it: When it comes to reviews, picturebooks deserve better. Sendak, one of the finest picturebook creators who ever lived, deserves much, much better.