cover image Presto & Zesto in Limboland

Presto & Zesto in Limboland

Arthur Yorinks and Maurice Sendak, illus. by Maurice Sendak. HarperCollins/di Capua, $18.95 (28p) ISBN 978-0-062-64465-7

In 1990, Maurice Sendak created 10 images for the performance of an orchestral suite of Czech nursery rhymes. Several years later, his friend and collaborator Yorinks (Company’s Coming) proposed that they write a story to go with them. They knew that in order to knit the unrelated images together, they’d have to resort to extravagant narrative invention. They cast Presto and Zesto, their nicknames for each other, as the story’s heroes and used Sendak’s panels to represent the scenes Presto and Zesto encounter when they arrive, inadvertently, in Limboland: “They didn’t mean to go there, who would go there, but they had a lot on their minds.” Despite the artifice, the story hangs together remarkably well—or at least stays true to its own bonkers logic. A wild-eyed shepherd boy tells them about the wedding of the sugar beets, and the friends set off to find the village’s only suitable wedding present—a set of bagpipes possessed by the monster Bumbo. Sendak’s bold and hilarious artwork features apoplectic villagers, disgruntled barnyard animals, fire, sharp implements, and a proliferation of goats (“Everybody has goats in Limboland”). Yet it’s not all shenanigans. Deep Sendakian emotions are at work: Bumbo is a fleshy, terrifying behemoth; the sugar beet bride wears a delicate white veil and a Mona Lisa smile. Narrating in unmistakable Brooklynese sprinkled with Yiddish (“He still owes us five bubkes”), the storytelling voice evokes a particular—even poignant—time and place. The images hold some of the irrational, dreamlike childhood fears that Sendak returned to throughout his life as an artist (a bear with scissors, a big man with an axe), but Yorinks’s broad humor makes the menace as easy to push aside as a theater curtain. It’s a joy to have another glimpse at Sendak’s magic. Ages 5–up. (Sept.)