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Modern Parenthood

A mom thanks Sendak for giving her son's “Jester” his jingle

A mom's wild rumpus of memories of Maurice Sendak: She read to her son “What Do You Say, Dear?" That son eventually was invited to visit Sendak. And when that young man wrote a book – "The Jester Has Lost His Jingle" – about the healing nature of laughter, but died before it was published, Sendak helped launch it onto the New York Times bestseller list.

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In September 1988, “The Jester Has Lost His Jingle” became David’s senior project in both English and art.

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is a former editor of the Los Angles Times Daily Calendar entertainment pages. She is executive director of the non-profit Jester & Pharley Phund.The charity is based on the book, “The Jester Has Lost His Jingle,” by her son David Saltzman. The organization works to benefit ill and special-needs children and literacy. To date, 325,000 copies of the book are in circulation with 155,000 dolls and books given to ill children and schools

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Just a month later, he was diagnosed with cancer, but he stayed at Yale to be with his friends while he was treated. And he continued work on “The Jester” – a consuming focus – through treatment and remission and on to graduation in May 1989.

He came home to California and continued working on the project – through a relapse and further treatment until his death, at 22, in March 1990.
We promised David that – whatever happened – his book would live.

But agents and publishers told us it would be too expensive to produce 64 pages in full color, in hardcover with a dust jacket, as David had envisioned. And besides, they said, rhyme wasn’t selling that year and they’d have to get David’s rhyme “translated” into prose. David wanted his book produced with the same quality he had admired in all of his hero Sendak’s books. And we vowed not to let him down.

We finally took out an equity line of credit to publish the book ourselves, and I decided to impose on Sendak to bolster David’s legacy. In November 1994, I sent a prototype of “The Jester Has Lost His Jingle” to Sendak. He had a reputation as a curmudgeon, so I tried to make it easy – I shipped the prototype of the book along with a letter and picture of David and Sendak taken at the Master’s Tea. And I included a self-addressed, pre-paid Fedex package for him to return the book.

 I half-expected it to come back unopened. It had been eight years since their meeting – how could Sendak possibly remember David among the legions of his fans?

And then the phone call came.

“Barbara, I was so surprised to receive your package,” Sendak said, to my disbelief. “I remember David very well. I had no idea David was so ill and was devastated to learn that he had died. I was afraid to open the book, because I was afraid I might not like it, and if I didn’t like it I wouldn’t be able to say anything good about it.”

 “My brother Jack has been very ill with cancer,” Sendak said. “I don’t know how David went through what he did and produced such a strong work. I wish I had known and I wish I could have helped him when he was alive. He was very talented.  But I will do whatever I can to help him now.”

He asked what he could do. I told him that if he could write a few words about David and the book, it would tell everyone that this was a valuable, serious work of children’s literature. “I’m honored to do that,” he said. “Please tell me, how much can I write?”

I told him there was no limit. “What is the deadline?” I told him the deadline. “I am working on another project but will get something to you by then,” he promised.

In January 1995, Sendak called me at my office precisely the day his remarks were due. “Hi, Barbara, I’ve written a few words …. The problem is I have no way to get them to you. I don’t have a secretary.”

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