Bumble-Ardy has a characteristically grim beginning. The young protagonist, a pig, suffers through the first eight years of his life without his family recognizing, let alone celebrating, his birthday. Then his parents are eaten, leaving him alone in the world. Would it be fair to say that childhood neglect and parental disappearance are favorite Sendak themes? “That’s all I’ve ever written about. As a kid, all I thought about was death. But you can’t tell your parents that.”
Bumble-Ardy goes to live with his aunt Adeline, and when she fails to throw him a party on his ninth birthday, he throws one for himself. Like all Sendakian rumpuses, it gets out of hand, and for 10 pages we’re treated to the most bizarre tableau of celebrants, all in costume: pigs dressed as monsters, pigs dressed as cowboys and Indians, pigs dressed as old ladies painted garishly. As with any Sendak book, the pictures are full of references and echoes. One pig is reading a newspaper that says, WE READ BANNED BOOKS. A sheriff’s yellow badge calls back to the Warsaw Ghetto. Messages are written in Hebrew, Italian, Russian. One placard, held by a yellow pig in overalls, asks, WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?