By Gerald Hausman
Bokeelia, FL, USA
We met Maurice in 1972 when Ruth Krauss (bestselling author of A Hole Is To Dig) introduced him to us. Of all the crazy things - we were re-publishing two books of theirs. That is, classic children's books written by nutty, witty Ruth and master pen-and-inker, Maurice. How the two of them linked up is interesting.
Ruth "discovered" Maurice, as she put it, when he was a department window-dresser in Manhattan. As she also put it, "He was really just a kid." What was it she saw in that window? We never found out, but I think it can be summed up in one word - genius.
Well, anyway, we became publishers, thanks to Ruth and courtesy of Maurice, whom she always called Maury. The books of theirs we loved and reprinted lovingly were Somebody Else's Nut Tree and also I'll Be You and You Be Me.
Our partner in this endeavor was David Silverstein who owned The Bookstore, which was a few steps away from The Restaurant in Lenox, Massachusetts. David had a sense of humor. So did Ruth. She thought it was pretty funny that her books with Maurice were out of print. We got them back into print. We had no money. We made a deal with a printer, Tom Reardon, who made a deal with his brothers and father, and the presses began rolling.
Two years later, we had two bestselling children's books selling for $1.95 a copy.
I remember driving down to Ridgefield, Connecticut to see Maurice about having him sign a limited edition in hardcover. Naturally we brought our daughter Mariah, age 3, along with us. Even as we entered Maurice's front door, Mariah asked, "Is this the house of Ruth?"
"No," I said, “it's the house of Maurice." (I never called him Maury. He didn't like the name even when Ruth used it.)
"Does he do the Nut Tree?" Mariah asked.
"Yes. And also the Wild Things."
"Oh,” she said.
In Maurice's house, there is a room chock full of Mickeys. As you might expect, Mariah loved Mickey Mouse and immediately believed that this magical Maurice with the pen knew Mickey quite well.
Maurice signed the limited editions and then he asked Mariah, whose mouth was still open as she studied the many Mickeys, "Would you like an apple from my apple tree?"
"Is it a nut tree?" Mariah asked.
"It's an apple tree," Maurice said.
He'd about had it, I could tell. Not with us, with her. She wasn't paying attention to him. Not at all. Just the Mickeys. So he offered something that made my heart jump. He said, "Would you like a Wild Thing?"
Mariah's eyes revolved around the Mickey clocks with their white-gloved hands. Finally she looked at Maurice, but she still didn't say anything. That was when he gave her an apple from his tree and at the same time sat down and drew a really wild looking Wild Thing.
Mariah stood very close to him, but gradually her eyes went from Maurice's facile pen-hand to the closest Mickey clock.
"Hey, kid," Maurice said, "I don't do Wild Things for just anybody. I have a big ego, pay attention to me!"
Mariah obeyed, if a bit reluctantly. Maurice finished the drawing with a little flourish and an inscription to Mariah from her friend Maurice Sendak. Mariah took a big bite of the apple and a huge drop of juice came off her lip and landed smack on Maurice's drawing.
On the way home, Mariah, still eating Maurice's apple, said, "That Ruth Krauss was nice."