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Collaborator Says Sendak Would Be 'Jumping For Joy' Over New Publication

More than 20 years ago, children's author and illustrator Maurice Sendak and his friend Arthur Yorinks collaborated on a book. But they were both busy with other projects at the time, and they never bothered to get it published. Sendak died in 2012, but that decades-old collaboration, Presto and Zesto in Limboland, has been rediscovered.

Sendak's pictures, Yorinks recalls, were made to illustrate "some disparate nonsense rhymes" set to music by Czech composer Leos Janacek in the suite Rikadla. The images were projected during a performance by the London Symphony Orchestra.

Then those illustrations sat in a drawer for several years, until ...

"We decided one day to put all the pictures on his drawing table," Yorinks says. "And we began to — like two old jazz musicians — kind of riff on various stories. And lo and behold, it started as a bit of a lark, but it ended up being a complete narrative."

That narrative is a testament to the decades of friendship between the two men — and will be published in fall 2018.

Interview Highlights

On why the book wasn't published at the time

It was finished creatively in terms of our work. It would then need to go to an editor and ... it's a long process ... [going from] finished pictures and manuscript to having a book in the stores. And because there were other things on the plate both for Maurice and me individually, we always thought we would get back to it, but we unfortunately didn't. ...

It was found by Lynn Caponera, the head of the Maurice Sendak Foundation, in a file folder ... and it was totally complete when it was found so we didn't really have to do much.

On Presto and Zesto

They're actually us — Maurice and myself. The main drift of the story was a kind of homage to our long-standing friendship. In a rather anecdotal way, Maurice had given me the nickname "Presto." I didn't want to let him get away with giving me a nickname ... so I named him "Zesto." And so we used those names for the characters in the book because the book is about friendship surviving in a very, very mixed-up world — so we indulged ourselves.

On whether Sendak had any ambivalence about the project

No, he didn't. And the nice thing about it is — as the old saying goes — I was there. And Maurice would have been totally, totally delighted to have this out. We fully intended to do something with this book and publish it at some point in time. We both thought the book was hilarious, and fun, and full of life, and if he was around he would be jumping for joy that it's being published. ... It's a wonderful epilogue to our friendship to have this book come out, and it's certainly a terrific addition to Maurice's enormous and glorious canon of work.

Gabe O'Connor, Lee Mengistu and Emily Kopp produced and edited the audio of this interview. Beth Novey adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Robert Siegel
Prior to his retirement, Robert Siegel was the senior host of NPR's award-winning evening newsmagazine All Things Considered. With 40 years of experience working in radio news, Siegel hosted the country's most-listened-to, afternoon-drive-time news radio program and reported on stories and happenings all over the globe, and reported from a variety of locations across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. He signed off in his final broadcast of All Things Considered on January 5, 2018.