MAURICE SENDAK

Review of Tim and Ginger
First published in Book Week, The Sunday Herald Tribune, February 6 1966 and included in Caldecott & Co. Notes on Books and Pictures Reinhardt Books 1988.
Copyright Maurice Sendak and reprinted here by the kind permission of the author.   



With easy aplomb, Edward Ardizzone has weathered the storms of fashionable style that have shipwrecked many talented but less sturdily dedicated illustrators. An artist whose work harks back to the great nineteenth-century watercolorists (and to the ingeniously constructed picture books of his countryman William Nicholson), Ardizzone has perpetuated the honorable tradition of English book illustration, adding sharp strokes of humor and insight that make all his work unusually fresh and immediate.

Published in America in 1936, his Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain was the first of a series of comic but touching adventure stories that are classic studies in the mysterious art of picture-book making. From the beginning Ardizzone had an instinct for this most difficult form. He intuitively hit upon a formula for manipulating simple ingredients that results in a complexity and cohesion rarely achieved in picture books of this century.

Little Tim is an oversized, rowdy-looking book filled with robust, swiftly rendered watercolors that appear to have been casually, almost arbitrarily sketched around, under, and in and out of the text. Its large, loose, and easy look, maintained throughout the series, perfectly suits Tim's windswept, watery adventure, and yet conceals architectonic elements – balance, pacing, pinpoint timing - that are basic to the picture book.

All the stories, with their inimitable touches of dry humor, are told in a poker-faced, mock-Victorian manner, and the dazzling watercolors and black-and-white sketches, dashed off in Ardizzone's very personal shorthand style, are frequently punctuated with funny asides voiced by the characters via balloons. The plots are almost ritualistic. There is always, of course, Tim, a proper, courageous, if somewhat headstrong seven-year-old who has an insatiable wanderlust and lives in a house by the sea - so convenient for wanderlusting - with an astonishingly permissive and unrufflable mum and dad. Over the years Ardizzone has introduced such singular characters as Lucy, Charlotte (the odd mixture of almost Germanic whimsy genteel poignancy makes Tim and Charlotte my favorite of the series), and Tim's mischievous friend Ginger.

Tim and Ginger, a tale of heroism, cowardice, and false accusation, is filled with delightfully predictable suspense but, unpredictably, falls short of the superlative standards maintained in the previous books. Perhaps a bit of underpinning shows, the formula plot seems somewhat strained, and the abbreviated style of the pictures borders on the careless. These defects, however, are of minor consequence, thanks to the buoyant, energetic, and very funny spirit that pervades all of Tim's adventures.

The action begins when Ginger scoffs at the old boatman's warning to beware of the treacherous tides while shrimping under the high chalk cliffs. "Poof” says Ginger - who poofs loudly all through the book - as he goes off shrimping. Needless to say, he doesn't come back and Tim, desperately worried, rows off to the rescue in a borrowed boat (which he is later accused of stealing). Just in time he saves Ginger, “who was in a terrible plight. By standing on the tips of his toes, he could only just keep his head above the sea. However, he was soon on board and seemed none the worse for his adventure." The watercolor illustrating this scene is hilarious - sober Tim rowing up to poor Ginger's head amidst sea gulls perched and plummeting.

Tim's parents show their concern in true Ardizzone style. His compact little mum, gazing Indian-fashion out to sea, says, "I do wish those boys would come home," and his dad murmurs, "Don't worry, my dear."  Of course, the boys come bravely through, despite some very narrow, very ludicrous squeaks, and Ginger has the last and most satisfying "Poof!"

For Tim devotees, the opening lines of the very first story ("Little Tim lived in a house by the sea. He wanted very much to be a sailor") were a droll Ishmael-like call to adventure that gave great promise of wonderful things to come. That promise was fulfilled in some of the saltiest and most satisfying picture books created during the last generation. In his own words, Tim "will come to no harm".

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