On September 28, 1983, the discovery of a previously unknown tale by Wilhelm Grimm was reported on the front page of The New York Times. “After more than 150 years,” the Times noted, “Hansel and Gretel, Snow-White, Rumpelstiltskin, and Cinderella will be joined by another Grimm fairy-tale character.” The story of dear Mili was preserved in a letter Wilhelm Grimm wrote to a little girl in 1816, a letter that remained in her family’s possession for over a century and a half. It tells of a mother who sends her daughter into the forest to save her from a terrible war. The child comes upon the hut of an old man, who gives her shelter, and she repays his kindness by serving him faithfully for what she thinks are three days. Actually, thirty years have passed, but Mili has remained safe, and with the old man’s blessing there is still time for a tender reunion with her mother. As for the pictures that interpret Dear Mili—hailed by School Library Journal as “gorgeous”—they were a milestone in Maurice Sendak’s career, the work of a master at the height of his powers.
I’m sure you have gone walking in the woods or in green meadows, and passed a clear, flowing brook. And you’ve tossed a flower into the brook, a red one, a blue one, or a snow-white one. It drifted away, and you followed it with your eyes as far as you could. And it went quietly away with the little waves, farther and farther, all day long and all night too, by the light of the moon or the stars. It didn’t need much light, for it knew the way and it didn’t get lost. When it had traveled for three days without stopping to rest, another flower came along
“Emotionally compelling . . . A variation on the themes of loss, separation and love . . . Sendak infuses it with images that are both nonsectarian and universal. Trees and roots in the valley of death become grasping, whitened bones scattered beneath an outline reminiscent of buildings at Auschwitz. The images are rich: dark clouds of war are etched with claws of yellow fire, and paradise is filled not only with music, but with lush flowers that burst, like those of Van Gogh or O’Keeffe, with passionate life . . . Contains unforgettable artwork of resonant power.” —Publishers Weekly
“Dear Mili is among Mr. Sendak’s finest creations. If one hesitates to call him the foremost illustrator in contemporary America, or the most accomplished draftsman, it is only because those terms set too narrow a limit on the nature of his achievement. He is an artist, nothing less; an artist with a powerful vision.” —John Gross, The New York Times
“In the Sendak world, stories unfold like dreams, where images connect emotionally and serendipitously, not by the logic imposed by grown-ups when they are awake. In much of his work, beauty and sorrow walk hand in hand . . . [Sendak’s work gives] children the power to conquer through art and ingenuity, reminding parents of the complicated responsibility that requires them to be hopeful but realistic about the terrible wild things out there.” —The New York Times