Maurice Sendak’s good friend and contemporary, the late James Marshall, wrote and illustrated many popular children’s books in his time, including The Stupids*, a series which depicts the relentless confusion of the always-upbeat Stupid family through a series of comical oddball misadventures. Arguably the funniest of these is The Stupids Die– a title that aroused controversy amongst uptight parents and closed-minded librarians, and made the book a perrenial favorite on “Most Banned Books” lists. The Stupids Die is an altogether innocent celebration of foolishness: revolving around an electrical blackout that the Stupids naturally mistake for the end of it all, the family stumbles around their house in the dark until Grandfather Stupid stops by for a visit:
“Welcome to heaven,” said Mr. Stupid.
“This isn’t heaven,” said Grandfather.
“This is Cleveland.”
“This may sound stupid,” said Buster.
“But I think this is our living room.”
Maurice reveals his deep admiration for The Stupids Die and its controverial title in an interview promoting his posthumous collaboration with Marshall, Swine Lake:
“That’s the only thing I truly envy Jim for,” Sendak laments. “Deep envy. I think The Stupids Die is the best title ever. I can’t forgive him for having that title. I used to tell him that. I bought the original poster for the book, and it hangs in one of my rooms.”
Swine Lake is illustrated by Maurice and based on Marshall’s manuscript about a wolf who hatches a plan to devour a ballet comapny comprised entirely of pigs, only to end up discovering his admiration for the art of dance and joins them on stage. It’s Three Little Pigs meets Billy Elliot. When asked, in the same interview, if the wolf learns a lesson at the end of Swine Lake, Maurice snorts disdainfully and responds: “I never wrote a book where I taught a lesson. And the wolf is going to eat those pigs eventually. He just doesn’t do it in this book.”
* Yes, Marshall’s books served as inspiration for the ill-conceived John Landis-directed 1996 Tom Arnold vehicle The Stupids, but don’t let that ruin it for you– his books share almost nothing in common with that wreck of a movie.