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“Where the Wild Things Are” author Maurice Sendak is born

“Where the Wild Things Are” author Maurice Sendak is born


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On June 10, 1928, author and illustrator Maurice Sendak, who revolutionized children’s literature with such best-selling books as Where the Wild Things Are and became one of the most celebrated children’s authors in contemporary history, is born in Brooklyn, New York. First published in 1963, Where the Wild Things Are was pioneering in its realistic depiction of childhood anxieties and rebellious behavior at a time when many stories for young readers presented a sugar-coated version of life.

Sendak, whose parents were Jewish immigrants from Poland, described his own childhood as unhappy. He was sickly and spent much of his time indoors. His father, a dressmaker, lost a number of family members during the Holocaust, and that tragedy that haunted the younger Sendak. After graduating from high school in Brooklyn, Sendak, who developed a love of drawing as a boy, took art classes at night and in 1948 found work as a window display designer at FAO Schwarz, the Manhattan toy store. While there, he was introduced to book editor Ursula Nordstrom (who during her career worked with a number of popular children’s book authors, including Margaret Wise Brown, E.B. White and Shel Silverstein). Nordstrom commissioned Sendak to illustrate his first children’s book, The Wonderful Farm, written by Marcel Ayme and published in 1951. Sendak illustrated books for a variety of children’s authors before writing and illustrating a picture book of his own, Kenny’s Window, published in 1956.

Sendak rose to international prominence with the publication of Where the Wild Things Are, which he wrote and illustrated. It tells the story of Max, a disobedient boy who, after being sent to his bedroom without dinner, travels to a land of fanged, hairy monsters and eventually faces them down. (Sendak based his drawings of these monsters, or “wild things,” on the obnoxious relatives who visited his family for Sunday dinners when he was a child.) Although initially criticized by some reviewers as too frightening for children and banned by some libraries, Where the Wild Things Are was awarded the Caldecott Medal in 1964 for most distinguished American picture book for children, and went on to sell millions of copies worldwide. A big-screen adaptation of the book, directed by Spike Jonze and co-written with Dave Eggers, was released in 2009.

In addition to Where the Wild Things Are, many of Sendak’s books–which include Higglety Pigglety Pop! Or There Must Be More to Life (1967), In the Night Kitchen (1970) and Bumble-Ardy (2011)–are dark and subversively humorous. In a January 2011 interview on “The Colbert Report,” the author, who was sometimes referred to by friends as “Morose Sendak,” said in response to a question about why he wrote for children: “I don’t write for children. I write—and somebody says, ‘That’s for children!’ I didn’t set out to make children happy or make life better for them, or easier for them.”Sendak, who wrote or illustrated close to 100 books during his career, also designed productions for operas, plays and ballets. He died of complications from a stroke at age 83 on May 8, 2012, at a Danbury, Connecticut, hospital. Sendak was preceded in death by his partner of more than 50 years, psychiatrist Eugene Glynn.


10 wild facts about Maurice Sendak's Where The Wild Things Are

President Obama chose to read one of his favourite children’s books, Where The Wild Things Are, for the 2016 Easter Egg Roll at the White House. His very dramatic reading, accompanied by First Lady Michelle, featured claws and roars from the excited crowd! As one of our favourite children’s books too, here are some fun facts that you may or may not know about Maurice Sendak’s classic.


Maurice Sendak Dead: 'Where The Wild Things Are' Author Dies At 83

The Associated Press reported that Sendak died early Tuesday at a hospital in Danbury, Connecticut after having a stroke on Friday. His longtime caretaker and friend, Lynn Caponera, was with him.

The popular children's book author wrote "Where The Wild Things Are" in 1963. He won a Caldecott Medal for the book in 1964, and was adapted into a movie in 2009.

According to The New York Times, a posthumous picture book, "My Brother's Book," is scheduled to be published in February 2013.

Here's more from the Associated Press:

Sendak didn't limit his career to a safe and successful formula of conventional children's books, though it was the pictures he did for wholesome works such as Ruth Krauss' "A Hole Is To Dig" and Else Holmelund Minarik's "Little Bear" that launched his career.

"Where the Wild Things Are," about a boy named Max who goes on a journey – sometimes a rampage – through his own imagination after he is sent to bed without supper, was quite controversial when it was published, and his quirky and borderline scary illustrations for E.T.A. Hoffmann's "Nutcracker" did not have the sugar coating featured in other versions.

Sendak also created costumes for ballets and staged operas, including the Czech opera "Brundibar," which he also put on paper with collaborator Pulitzer-winning playwright Tony Kushner in 2003.

He designed the Pacific Northwest Ballet's "Nutcracker" production that later became a movie shown on television, and he served as producer of various animated TV series based on his illustrations, including "Seven Little Monsters," "George and Martha" and "Little Bear."

But despite his varied resume, Sendak accepted – and embraced – the label "kiddie-book author."

"I write books as an old man, but in this country you have to be categorized, and I guess a little boy swimming in the nude in a bowl of milk (as in `In the Night Kitchen') can't be called an adult book," he told The Associated Press in 2003.

"So I write books that seem more suitable for children, and that's OK with me. They are a better audience and tougher critics. Kids tell you what they think, not what they think they should think."

During that 2003 interview, Sendak also said he felt as if he were part of a dying breed of illustrators who approached their work as craftsmen. "I feel like a dinosaur. There are a few of us left. (We) worked so hard in the `50s and `60s but some have died and computers pushed others out."

Sendak, who did his work in a studio at the Ridgefield, Conn., home he moved into in the early 1960s, never embraced high-tech toys. He did, however, have a collection of Mickey Mouse and other Walt Disney toys displayed throughout the house.

When director Spike Jonez made the movie version of "Where the Wild Things Are," Sendak said he urged the director to remember his view that childhood isn't all sweetness and light. And he was happy with the result.

"In plain terms, a child is a complicated creature who can drive you crazy" Sendak told the AP in 2009. "There's a cruelty to childhood, there's an anger. And I did not want to reduce Max to the trite image of the good little boy that you find in too many books."

Sendak's own life was clouded by the shadow of the Holocaust. He had said that the events of World War II were the root of his raw and honest artistic style.

Born in 1928 and raised in Brooklyn, Sendak said he remembered the tears shed by his Jewish-Polish immigrant parents as they'd get news of atrocities and the deaths of relatives and friends. "My childhood was about thinking about the kids over there (in Europe). My burden is living for those who didn't," he told the AP.

Sendak, his sister Natalie, and late brother Jack, were the last of the family on his father's side since his other relatives didn't move to the United States before the war. The only family member Sendak really knew on his mother's side was his grandmother.

Sendak didn't go to college and worked a string of odd jobs until he went to work at the famous toy store FAO Schwarz as a window dresser in 1948. But it was his childhood dream to be an illustrator and his break came in 1951 when he was commissioned to do the art for "Wonderful Farm" by Marcel Ayme.

By 1957 he was writing his own books.

Sendak received the international Hans Christian Andersen medal for illustration in 1970. In 1983 he won the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award from the American Library Association.

But it was "Brundibar," a folk tale about two children who need to earn enough money to buy milk for their sick mother that Sendak completed when he was 75, that he was most proud of. "This is the closest thing to a perfect child I've ever had."

Sendak stayed away from the book-signing bandwagon that many other authors use for publicity he said he couldn't stand the thought of parents dragging children to wait on line for hours to see a little old man in thick glasses.

"Kids don't know about best sellers," he said. "They go for what they enjoy. They aren't star chasers and they don't suck up. It's why I like them."


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Maurice Bernard Sendak was born in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up there, the youngest of the three children of Philip Sendak and the former Sadie Schindler. Both his parents were Jewish immigrants from Poland Philip, a dressmaker and the son of a rabbi, had originally come to America, according to his son, in pursuit of “a girl who had committed herself to every living human male in the village.”

As a child, Maurice was frail and sickly, spending much of his time indoors and pursued by guilt and fears. He recalled in adulthood how his father had received news of the destruction of his family and native village in the Holocaust on the day of his bar mitzvah. The son insisted that his father attend his celebration, and he did, but later Sendak told The Believer magazine, “I remember … looking at him when they broke into ‘For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow’ … And my father’s face was vivid, livid, and I knew I had done something very bad.”

Seeing the Disney film “Fantasia” at age 12 convinced Maurice he wanted to be an artist. While still a student at Lafayette High School in Bath Beach, Brooklyn, he began working for All American Comics, illustrating strips like “Mutt and Jeff.” In 1947, he provided the illustrations for a physics textbook, “Atomics for the Millions.” Soon after, while Sendak was working as a designer of window displays at F.A.O. Schwarz toy store, a colleague arranged an introduction for him to an editor of children’s books at Harper & Row, which led to a number of assignments.

After making a name for himself illustrating books by other writers, including one by his own brother, Jack Sendak, Maurice was encouraged to create a work fully his own. “Kenny’s Window” (1956), his first, was followed by such titles as “Chicken Soup and Rice” and “Pierre” (whose eponymous hero knows only how to say “I don’t care”), in 1962, and in 1963, Sendak’s most acclaimed work, “Where the Wild Things Are.” Adapted twice for the screen, and once for the operatic stage, and winner of the 1964 Caldecott Medal, the book tells the story of Max, who, sent to his room for misbehaving, sees that room turn into a jungle before he sails off to an island inhabited by scary but appealing “wild things.” Max tames them and becomes their king, but then realizes that home is where he wants to be. He sails back home, only to find his supper waiting for him – “and it was still hot.”

Although Sendak was writer and illustrator of a dozen books, he provided illustrations alone for nearly a hundred titles, including the children’s book “Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories,” by Isaac Bashevis Singer. Late in his career, he also began doing set design for theater and opera. In 2003, he and playwright Tony Kushner produced an adaptation, in both book form and for the stage, of the children’s opera “Brundibar,” originally written by Hans Krasa and produced in the Theresienstadt concentration camp.

Sendak was gay and had a relationship that lasted 50 years with the psychoanalyst and art critic Eugene Glynn, but he only went public with this aspect of his life after Glynn’s death in 2007. Though all of his work was intended for children (among others), Sendak never became a father, and told interviewers that he would not have been a good one.

“I refuse to lie to children,” Sendak told Emma Brockes of The Believer, shortly before his death. “I refuse to cater to the bullshit of innocence.”

Maurice Sendak died on May 8, 2012, after a stroke, at age 83. Eight months before his death, he published “Bumble-Ardy,” and “My Brother’s Book,” dedicated to the memory of his brother, Jack, was published posthumously in February 2013.


FILE - In this Sept. 6 2011 file photo, children's book author Maurice Sendak is photographed doing an interview at his home in Ridgefield, Conn. Sendak, author of the popular children's book "Where the Wild Things Are," died, Tuesday, May 8, 2012 at Danbury Hospital in Danbury, Conn. He was 83. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, file)

DANBURY, Conn. (AP) — Maurice Sendak, the children's book author and illustrator who saw the sometimes-dark side of childhood in books like "Where the Wild Things Are" and "In the Night Kitchen," died early Tuesday. He was 83.

Longtime friend and caretaker Lynn Caponera said she was with him when Sendak died at a hospital in Danbury, Conn. She said he had a stroke on Friday.

"Where the Wild Things Are" earned Sendak a prestigious Caldecott Medal for the best children's book of 1964 and became a hit movie in 2009. President Bill Clinton awarded Sendak a National Medal of the Arts in 1996 for his vast portfolio of work.

Sendak didn't limit his career to a safe and successful formula of conventional children's books, though it was the pictures he did for wholesome works such as Ruth Krauss' "A Hole Is To Dig" and Else Holmelund Minarik's "Little Bear" that launched his career.

"Where the Wild Things Are," about a boy named Max who goes on a journey — sometimes a rampage — through his own imagination after he is sent to bed without supper, was quite controversial when it was published, and his quirky and borderline scary illustrations for E.T.A. Hoffmann's "Nutcracker" did not have the sugar coating featured in other versions.

Sendak also created costumes for ballets and staged operas, including the Czech opera "Brundibar," which he also put on paper with collaborator Pulitzer-winning playwright Tony Kushner in 2003.

He designed the Pacific Northwest Ballet's "Nutcracker" production that later became a movie shown on television, and he served as producer of various animated TV series based on his illustrations, including "Seven Little Monsters," ''George and Martha" and "Little Bear."

But despite his varied resume, Sendak accepted — and embraced — the label "kiddie-book author."

"I write books as an old man, but in this country you have to be categorized, and I guess a little boy swimming in the nude in a bowl of milk (as in 'In the Night Kitchen') can't be called an adult book," he told The Associated Press in 2003.

"So I write books that seem more suitable for children, and that's OK with me. They are a better audience and tougher critics. Kids tell you what they think, not what they think they should think."

During that 2003 interview, Sendak alsoshe felt as if he were part of a dying breed of illustrators who approached their work as craftsmen. "I feel like a dinosaur. There are a few of us left. (We) worked so hard in the '50s and '60s but some have died and computers pushed others out."

Sendak, who did his work in a studio at the Ridgefield, Conn., home he moved into in the early 1960s, never embraced high-tech toys. He did, however, have a collection of Mickey Mouse and other Walt Disney toys displayed throughout the house.

When director Spike Jonez made the movie version of "Where the Wild Things Are," Sendak said he urged the director to remember his view that childhood isn't all sweetness and light. And he was happy with the result.

"In plain terms, a child is a complicated creature who can drive you crazy" Sendak told the AP in 2009. "There's a cruelty to childhood, there's an anger. And I did not want to reduce Max to the trite image of the good little boy that you find in too many books."

Sendak's own life was clouded by the shadow of the Holocaust. He had said that the events of World War II were the root of his raw and honest artistic style.

Born in 1928 and raised in Brooklyn, Sendak said he remembered the tears shed by his Jewish-Polish immigrant parents as they'd get news of atrocities and the deaths of relatives and friends. "My childhood was about thinking about the kids over there (in Europe). My burden is living for those who didn't," he told the AP.

Sendak, his sister Natalie, and late brother Jack, were the last of the family on his father's side since his other relatives didn't move to the United States before the war. The only family member Sendak really knew on his mother's side was his grandmother.

Sendak didn't go to college and worked a string of odd jobs until he went to work at the famous toy store FAO Schwarz as a window dresser in 1948. But it was his childhood dream to be an illustrator and his break came in 1951 when he was commissioned to do the art for "Wonderful Farm" by Marcel Ayme.

By 1957 he was writing his own books.

Sendak received the international Hans Christian Andersen medal for illustration in 1970. In 1983 he won the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award from the American Library Association.

But it was "Brundibar," a folk tale about two children who need to earn enough money to buy milk for their sick mother that Sendak completed when he was 75, that he was most proud of. "This is the closest thing to a perfect child I've ever had."

Sendak stayed away from the book-signing bandwagon that many other authors use for publicity he said he couldn't stand the thought of parents dragging children to wait on line for hours to see a little old man in thick glasses.

"Kids don't know about best sellers," he said. "They go for what they enjoy. They aren't star chasers and they don't suck up. It's why I like them."


'Wild Things' author Maurice Sendak dies

In this Tuesday, Sept. 6 2011 photo, children's book author Maurice Sendak is photographed doing an interview at his home in Ridgefield, Conn.

Mary Altaffer/Associated Press Show More Show Less

2 of 12 Maurice Sendak, Ridgefield resident. Spencer Platt/Wire photo Show More Show Less

Where the Wild Things Are.

7 of 12 Illustrator and writer Maurice Sendak and actress Catherine Keener attend a documentary screening of "Tell Them Anything You Want: A Portrait of Maurice Sendak" at The Museum of Modern Art on October 8, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for HBO) Michael Loccisano Show More Show Less

8 of 12 Maurice Sendak, the children's book writer and illustrator, points to elements of the witch's house he designed for the PBS production of 'Hansel und Gretel' at New York's Juillard School, Dec. 2, 1997. (AP Photo/Yukio Gion) YUKIO GION Show More Show Less

10 of 12 Caption: In drawing the bully Brundibar, Maurice Sendak combined bullies throughout history into one person. Required credit: Final drawing for Brundibar, 2003, by Maurice Sendak, all rights reserved. Maurice Sendak Show More Show Less

Author Maurice Sendak, left, film director Spike Jonze, center, and actor Max Records, right, arrive to the New York premiere of the film "Where the Wild Things Are", Tuesday, Oct., 13, 2009.

DANBURY -- Longtime Ridgefield resident Maurice Sendak, the children's author and illustrator who saw the sometimes dark side of childhood in books such as "Where the Wild Things Are" and "In the Night Kitchen," died Tuesday morning at Danbury Hospital. He was 83.

"It's a sad time,'' said Philip Lodewick, of Ridgefield , a longtime friend of Sendak. "We're all grieving his loss.''

Lynn Caponera, Sendak's friend and caretaker, said she was with him when he died early Tuesday, four days after he suffered a stroke.

Sendak, who did most of his work in a studio at his Ridgefield home, revolutionized children's books by leaving in what so many writers had excluded.

"I like interesting people, and kids are really interesting people," he told The Associated Press last fall. "And if you didn't paint them in little blue, pink and yellow, it's even more interesting."

His children misbehaved and didn't regret it, and in their dreams and nightmares fled to unimaginable places. Monstrous creatures were devised from his studio, but no more frightening than the grown-ups in his stories, or the cloud of the Holocaust that darkened his every page.

"Probably anyone born after World War II has been caught up with his books,'' said Richard Klein, director of exhibitions at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield. "He's a major figure.''

"He's maybe the most important children's author since Hans Christian Andersen,'' Lodewick said.

Sendak's books sold millions of copies, and his somewhat curmudgeonly persona became as much a part of his legend as "Where the Wild Things Are," his signature book.

Communities attempted to ban his work, but Sendak had friends in powerful places. President Bill Clinton awarded Sendak a National Medal of the Arts in 1996, and last month, President Barack Obama read "Where the Wild Things Are" at the White House Easter egg roll.

Lodewick said Sendak was, in private, "a terrific person.''

"He was wonderful and warm and open,'' Lodewick said. "He had a very subtle, wry sense of humor. And he was a great student of life.''

Sendak didn't limit his career to a safe and successful formula, though it was the pictures he did for wholesome works such as Ruth Krauss' "A Hole Is To Dig" and Else Holmelund Minarik's "Little Bear" that launched his career.

"Where the Wild Things Are" is about a boy named Max who goes on a journey, sometimes a rampage, through his own imagination after he is sent to bed without supper. The book was quite controversial when it was published in 1963. Sendak's quirky and borderline scary illustrations for E.T.A. Hoffmann's "Nutcracker" did not have the sugar coating featured in other versions.

Sendak also created costumes for ballets and staged operas, including the Czech opera "Brundibar," which he also put on paper with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner in 2003.

Sendak designed the Pacific Northwest Ballet's "Nutcracker" production and was producer of various animated TV series based on his illustrations, including "Seven Little Monsters," "George and Martha" and "Little Bear."

But despite his varied resume, Sendak accepted, and embraced, the label "kiddie-book author."

"I write books as an old man, but in this country you have to be categorized, and I guess a little boy swimming in the nude in a bowl of milk (as in `In the Night Kitchen') can't be called an adult book," he told The Associated Press in 2003.

"So I write books that seem more suitable for children, and that's OK with me. They are a better audience and tougher critics. Kids tell you what they think, not what they think they should think."

Sendak, who moved to Ridgefield in the early 1960s, never embraced high-tech toys. He did, however, have a collection of Mickey Mouse and other Disney toys displayed throughout the house.

When director Spike Jonze made the 2009 movie version of "Where the Wild Things Are," Sendak said he urged the director to remember his view that childhood isn't all sweetness and light.

"In plain terms, a child is a complicated creature who can drive you crazy," Sendak told the AP in 2009. "There's a cruelty to childhood, there's an anger. And I did not want to reduce Max to the trite image of the good little boy that you find in too many books."

Last May, Sendak had an exhibit at the Danbury Public Library that provided a window into his work. "In a Nutshell: The Worlds of Maurice Sendak," spanned the 50 years in which his illustrations have been children's favorites.

Mark Hasskarl, who was then director of the library, said the exhibit was a way to celebrate Jewish culture.

Sendak's own life was clouded by the shadow of the Holocaust. He said the events of World War II were the root of his raw and honest artistic style.

Born in 1928 and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., Sendak said he remembered the tears of his Jewish-Polish immigrant parents as they would receive news of atrocities and the deaths of relatives and friends.

"My childhood was about thinking about the kids over there (in Europe)," he told the AP. "My burden is living for those who didn't."

Sendak, his sister, Natalie, and late brother, Jack, were the last of the family on his father's side, since other relatives didn't move to the United States before the war. The only family member Sendak really knew on his mother's side was his grandmother.

Sendak didn't go to college and worked a string of odd jobs until he went to work at the famous toy store FAO Schwarz as a window dresser in 1948. It was his childhood dream to be an illustrator, and his break came in 1951, when he was commissioned to do the art for "Wonderful Farm" by Marcel Ayme.

By 1957, he was writing his own books.

Sendak received the international Hans Christian Andersen medal for illustration in 1970. In 1983, he won the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award from the American Library Association.

But it was "Brundibar," a folk tale about two children who need to earn enough money to buy milk for their sick mother, and that Sendak completed when he was 75, that he was most proud of.


With the publication of Where the Wild Things Are in 1963 for which Sendak won the 1964 Caldecott Medal, Maurice Sendak's work earned both acclaim and controversy. Sendak addressed some of the complaints about the scary aspects of his book in his Caldecott Medal acceptance speech, saying:

As he went on to create other popular books and characters, there seemed to be two schools of thought. Some people felt that his stories were too dark and disturbing for children. The majority view was that Sendak, through his work, had pioneered a completely new way of writing and illustrating for, and about, children.

Both Sendak's stories and some of his illustrations were subject to controversy. For example, the nude little boy in Sendak's picture book In the Night Kitchen was one of the reasons the book was 21st among the 100 most frequently challenged books of the 1990s and 24th among the 100 most frequently challenged books of the 2000s.


'Where Wild Things Are' author Maurice Sendak told truth about children

In this September 6, 2011 file photo, children's book author Maurice Sendak is photographed doing an interview at his home in Ridgefield. Sendak, author of the popular children's book "Where the Wild Things Are," died, Tuesday, May 8, 2012 at Danbury Hospital in Danbury, Conn. He was 83. Image Credit: AP

New York: Maurice Sendak didn't think of himself as a children's author, but as an author who told the truth about childhood.

"I like interesting people and kids are really interesting people," he explained to The Associated Press last fall. "And if you didn't paint them in little blue, pink and yellow, it's even more interesting."

Sendak, who died early Tuesday in Danbury, Conn., at age 83, four days after suffering a stroke, revolutionized children's books and how we think about childhood simply by leaving in what so many writers before had excluded. Dick and Jane were no match for his naughty Max. His kids misbehaved and didn't regret it, and in their dreams and nightmares fled to the most unimaginable places. Monstrous creatures were devised from his studio, but none more frightening than the grownups in his stories or the cloud of the Holocaust that darkened his every page.

"From their earliest years children live on familiar terms with disrupting emotions - fear and anxiety are an intrinsic part of their everyday lives, they continually cope with frustrations as best they can," he said upon receiving the Caldecott Medal in 1964 for "Where the Wild Things Are," his signature book. "And it is through fantasy that children achieve catharsis. It is the best means they have for taming wild things."

Rarely was a man so uninterested in being loved or adored. Starting with the Caldecott, the great parade marched on and on. He received the Hans Christian Andersen award in 1970 and a Laura Ingalls Wilder medal in 1983. President Bill Clinton awarded Sendak a National Medal of the Arts in 1996 and in 2009 President Obama read "Where the Wild Things Are" for the Easter Egg Roll.

Communities attempted to ban him, but his books sold millions of copies and his curmudgeonly persona became as much a part of his legend as "Where the Wild Things Are," adapted into a hit movie in 2009. He seemed to act out everyone's fantasy of a nasty old man with a hidden and generous heart. No one granted the privilege could forget his snarly smile, his raspy, unprintable and adorable dismissals of such modern piffle as e-books and publicity tours, his misleading insistence that his life didn't matter.

"I didn't sleep with famous people or movie stars or anything like that. It's a common story: Brooklyn boy grows up and succeeds in his profession, period," he told the AP.

Sendak's other books, standard volumes in so many children's bedrooms, included "Chicken Soup With Rice," ''One was Johnny," ''Pierre," ''Outside Over There" and "Brundibar," a folk tale about two children who need to earn enough money to buy milk for their sick mother.

"This is the closest thing to a perfect child I've ever had," he told the AP.

Besides illustrating his own work, he also provided drawings - sometimes sweet, sometimes nasty - for Else Holmelund Minarik's series "Little Bear," George MacDonald's "The Light Princess" and adaptations of E.T.A. Hoffman's "The Nutcracker" and the Brothers Grimm's "King Grisly-Beard." His most recent book that he wrote and illustrated was "Bumble-Ardy," a naughty pig party which came out in 2011, based on an old animated skit he worked up for "Sesame Street."

In recent months, he had said he was working on a project about noses and he endorsed - against his best judgment - Stephen Colbert's "I am a Pole (And So Can You!)", a children's story calculated to offend the master. Colbert's book was published Tuesday.

"His art gave us a fantastical but unromanticized reminder of what childhood truly felt like," Colbert said in a statement. "We are all honored to have been briefly invited into his world."

Somebody up there has a sense of humor: As of Tuesday evening, "I Am a Pole" was No. 14 on Amazon.com's best-seller list, outranking "Where the Wild Things Are" at No. 19.

Sendak also created costumes for ballets and staged operas, including the Czech opera "Brundibar," which in 2003 he put on paper with his close friend, Pulitzer-winning playwright Tony Kushner. He designed sets for several productions at New York City Opera and he wrote the libretto for composer Oliver Knussen's opera adaptation of "Where the Wild Things Are," which premiered at Brussels' Theatre de la Monnaie in 1980 as "Max et les Maximontres." A revised final version debuted in 1984 in London.

He designed the Pacific Northwest Ballet's "Nutcracker" production that later became a movie shown on television, and he served as producer of various animated TV series based on his illustrations, including "Seven Little Monsters," ''George and Martha" and "Little Bear." He collaborated with Carole King on the musical "Really Rosie."

None of Sendak's books were memoirs, but all were personal, if only for their celebrations of disobedience and intimations of fear and death and dislocation, sketched in haunting, Blakean waves of pen and ink. "It's a Jewish way of getting through life," Kushner said last fall. "You acknowledge what is spectacular and beautiful and also you don't close your eyes to the pain and the difficulty."

"He drew children in a realistic way, as opposed to an idealized way," children's books historian Leonard S. Marcus said Tuesday. "His children weren't perfect-looking. They didn't resemble the people seen on advertising or in sitcoms. They looked more like immigrant children. It was a big change for American children's books, which tended to take the melting pot approach and present children who were generic Americans."

Revenge helped inspire "Where the Wild Things Are," his canonical tale of the boy Max's mind in flight in a forest of monsters, who just happen to look like some of Sendak's relatives from childhood. "In The Night Kitchen," released in 1971, was a forbidden dance of Laurel and Hardy in aprons and the flash of a boy's genitals, leading to calls for the book to be removed from library shelves.

"It was so fatuous, so incredible, that people would get so exercised by a phallus, a normal appendage to a man and to a boy. It was so cheap and vulgar. Despicable," Sendak said last fall. "It's all changed now. We live in a different country altogether. I will not say an improved version. No."

His stories were less about the kids he knew - never had them, he was happy to say - than the kid he used to be. The son of Polish immigrants, he was born in 1928 in a Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn. The family didn't have a lot of money and he didn't have a lot of friends besides his brother and sister. He was an outsider at birth, as Christians nearby would remind him, throwing dirt and rocks as he left Hebrew school. The kidnapping and murder of Charles Lindbergh's baby son terrified him for years.

He remembered no special talent - his brother, Jack, was the chosen one. But he absorbed his father's stories and he loved to dream and to create, like the time he and his brother built a model of the 1939 World's Fair out of clay and wax. At the movies, he surrendered to the magic of "Fantasia," and later escaped into "Pinocchio," a guilty pleasure during darkened times. The Nazi cancer was spreading overseas and the U.S. entered the war. Sendak's brother joined the military, relatives overseas were captured and killed. Storytelling, after the Holocaust, became something more than play.

"It forced me to take children to a level that I thought was more honest than most people did," he said. "Because if life is so critical, if Anne Frank could die, if my friend could die, children were as vulnerable as adults, and that gave me a secret purpose to my work, to make them live. Because I wanted to live. I wanted to grow up."

Sendak didn't go to college and worked a variety of odd jobs until he was hired by the famous toy store FAO Schwarz as a window dresser in 1948. But illustration was his dream and his break came in 1951 when he was commissioned to do the art for "Wonderful Farm" by Marcel Ayme. By 1957 he was writing his own books.

"He began to be honest in the '50s," said "Wicked" author Gregory Maguire, one of Sendak's closest friends. "He was laceratingly honest at a time when few others were."

Claiming Emily Dickinson, Mozart and Herman Melville as inspirations, he worked for decades out of the studio of his shingled 18th century house in Ridgefield, Conn., a country home reachable only by a bumpy road that seemed designed to keep away all but the most determined. The interior was a wonderland of carvings and cushions, from Disney characters to the fanged beasts from his books to a statuette of Obama.

Sendak spoke often, endlessly, about death in recent years - dreading it, longing for it. He didn't mind being old because the young were under so much pressure. But he missed his late siblings and his longtime companion, Eugene Glynn, who died in 2009. Work, not people, was his reason to carry on.

"I want to be alone and work until the day my head hits the drawing table and I'm dead. Kaput," he said last fall. "Everything is over. Everything that I called living is over. I'm very, very much alone. I don't believe in heaven or hell or any of those things. I feel very much like I want to be with my brother and sister again. They're nowhere. I know they're nowhere and they don't exist, but if nowhere means that's where they are, that's where I want to be."


Maurice Sendak Thought This Work Was His Masterpiece — Not ‘Wild Things’

When Maurice Sendak’s picture book “Outside Over There” came out in 1981, his publisher marketed the dark, brooding fairy tale to adults as well as children. It gave the author an unusual feeling: It made him happy.

“I had waited a long time to be taken out of kiddie-book land and allowed to join the artists of America,” he said.

Sendak, the Jewish-born children’s author who died in 2012 at age 83, is in fact one of the few children’s book author-illustrators to be considered a truly great American artist. He’s best known, of course, for his 1963 classic “Where the Wild Things Are,” which was highly controversial in its day, strange as that may seem now. Children were supposed to be obedient, not mischievous and spiteful and prone to flights of fancy. Wasn’t it the job of children’s literature to help promote good morals?

But Sendak had another idea. For him, children know far more about pain, loss and the murky world of adults than many parents are willing to acknowledge.

“The one question I am obsessed with is how do children survive.” he once said.

It’s a great mystery, one that Jonathan Cott, who first interviewed Sendak for a Rolling Stone cover story in 1976, revisits in his new book “There’s a Mystery There: The Primal Vision of Maurice Sendak.” The book is a testament to the timelessness of the artist’s magnificent illustrations and, more important, to his fearless exploration of the inner lives of children.

“There’s a Mystery There” is an overview of Sendak’s work, including conversations with psychologists, art historians and the playwright Tony Kushner, who collaborated with Sendak on a picture book adaptation of the children’s opera “Brundibar.” Cott puts particular emphasis on “Outside Over There,” which Sendak considered the third title in a trilogy that includes “Wild Things” and “In the Night Kitchen.”

“It was Maurice’s favorite,” Cott said of “Outside Over There.” “He thought it was his masterpiece.” When the Maurice Sendak Foundation, in Connecticut, offered full access to the artist’s archives, Cott suggested a critical analysis of the provocative themes of “Outside Over There”: sibling resentment, emotionally unavailable parenting, fear of responsibility and the consequences of making mistakes.

“I just thought it held the key to his being and the arc of his work and life,” Cott said.

Sendak, as Cott makes clear, was prone to depression, and he wasn’t afraid to let his anger show. In his last years he let down his guard for some high-profile interviews, with Stephen Colbert and Terry Gross for NPR’s “Fresh Air.”

“He was a very blunt guy,” recalled Cott, who published “On the Sea of Memory,” a memoir of his own struggle with depression, in 2005. “I wouldn’t have agreed with him about everything.”

But Cott, who has written about a wide variety of art and ideas (he edited a book of interviews with Bob Dylan that will be republished later this year), engaged with his subject about their shared obsessions — Mozart, Melville, William Blake, Dr. Seuss — over the course of multiple interviews that spanned several years.

Sendak often spoke of his work on “Outside Over There” as a kind of painful gestation. To him, there was something deeply personal about the story he wanted to tell of a troubled young girl, a distant mother and a baby snatched away by demons. He explained the idea to Cott for the Rolling Stone interview, and then they sat down again to discuss it just before the book’s publication, five years later, as Cott was working on a book of his own about children’s literature.

All these years later, while brainstorming with the Sendak Foundation, Cott remembered how much those talks moved him. “I realized I’d been at the conception, so to speak,” he said.

In Ridgefield, Connecticut, where Sendak lived for decades, the foundation recently broke ground on a long-promised museum and scholarly resource. The museum will be housed in a new building on the grounds of his home, which is still maintained by Lynn Caponera, Sendak’s longtime caretaker and now the president of the foundation that bears his name.

Five years after his death, interest in Sendak’s work shows scant sign of waning. Through May, The Rosenbach Museum of the Free Library of Philadelphia is exhibiting selections from more than 600 rare books it received recently from Sendak’s personal collection, including 19th-century examples of some of the first pop-up books, privately printed works from Beatrix Potter and a 1917 anthology of Yiddish poetry.

Sendak, a longtime fan of The Rosenbach, a historic house museum that specializes in rare books and the decorative arts, willed the collection to the library decades ago. Last fall the Rosenbach settled out of court with the Sendak Foundation, which had claimed rights to the books the foundation ended up with about 250 of the titles, including two by Blake that are said to be worth millions.

In his 1983 book about children’s literature, “Pipers at the Gates of Dawn,” Cott explained his ongoing interest in the subject: “The older we get, the harder it is for us to wake up.” Children’s literature, he suggested, could provide a vital reminder that the benefits of wisdom and imagination should never end.

The best children’s books bring us “back to experiencing our earliest and deepest feelings and truths,” he wrote. “It is our link to the past and a path to the future. And in it we find ourselves.”


Maurice Sendak’s Thin Skin

For 20 years or longer, author-illustrator Maurice Sendak has claimed that child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim mercilessly attacked his 1963 book Where the Wild Things Are when it was first published, causing him and the book great damage.

Wild Things ran into a lot of trouble when it was published,” Sendak told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in a Dec. 4, 1989, story. ”It was considered ugly. It was considered far-fetched. It was considered too frightening to children. Bruno Bettelheim denounced the book, which put a damper on it for a long time.”

Twelve years later, Sendak was slamming Bettelheim again, telling the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Aug. 10, 2001):

Sendak was still seething about Bettelheim in a June 4, 2005, interview with NPR:

By force of repetition, the Bettelheim-made-my-life-hell throughline has become a part of Sendak’s permanent history. Last weekend, in preview pieces about the Spike Jonze movie based on the book, both the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal pegged Bettelheim, who died in 1990, as an early and influential foe of Wild Things.

But like Max’s travels in Where the Wild Things Are, Sendak’s version is almost completely imaginary. Bettelheim’s criticism came more than five years after Where the Wild Things Are was published, appearing in the March 1969 edition of Ladies’ Home Journal, where he answered mothers’ child-rearing questions in a monthly column. Furthermore, Bettelheim admitted in his column that he wasn’t familiar with the book and that his comments “may be very unfair.” (Later, he would confess that he had never opened it.) He judged the book based on descriptions provided by the mothers.

What did Bettelheim say? The offending column, titled “The Care and Feeding of Monsters,” is reproduced in Heads On and We Shoot: The Making of Where the Wild Things Are. Bettelheim—who doesn’t name Sendak—writes, “What’s wrong with the book is that the author was obviously captivated by an adult psychological understanding of how to deal with destructive fantasies in the child. What he failed to understand is the incredible fear it evokes in the child to be sent to bed without supper, and this by the first and foremost giver of food and security—his mother.”

Bettelheim’s assessment was negative, but hardly book-wrecking, especially considering the grand reception the book enjoyed. In March 1964, it received the Caldecott Medal for the best American picture book, the most prestigious prize of its kind. Today, there are 19 million copies of it in print around the world.

Some reviewers did think the book might be too frightening for children. In a Jan. 22, 1966, New Yorker (subscription required) profile of Sendak, Nat Hentoff collects several of the critical responses. “We should not like to have it left about where a sensitive child might find it to pore over in the twilight,” stated the Journal of Nursery Education. Publishers’ Weekly offered a mix of praise and criticism, saying that “the plan and technique of the illustrations are superb. … But they may well prove frightening, accompanied as they are by a pointless and confusing story.” Library Journal’s critic wrote, “This is the kind of story that many adults will question and for many reasons, but the child will accept it wisely and without inhibition, as he knows it is written for him.”

Perhaps the most insightful review harvested by Hentoff came from the Cleveland Press: “Boys and girls may have to shield their parents from this book. Parents are very easily scared.”

The idea that Sendak was a vulnerable book author in the 1960s is preposterous—even before Wild Things came out, Sendak was considered a national treasure. A May 12, 1963, New York Times (subscription required) profile by art critic Brian O’Doherty called him “One of the most powerful men in the United States” and noted that “his work has been cited eight times in the Times’ 11 annual selections of best illustrated children’s books.” In cultural circles, not to mention home libraries, Sendak outranked the egghead Bettelheim by a factor of 100.

While it is true that Where the Wild Things Are caused a cultural rumpus when it was published, that was precisely Sendak’s intention. “I wanted the wild things to be frightening,” he said in the 1980 book The Art of Maurice Sendak. His appetite for controversy is clear from the tone and substance of the acceptance speech he gave when he accepted the Caldecott Medal. He drew aim on children’s books whose

He got the fight with the pussyfooters he desired—to complain decades later about the bruised nose that Bettelheim gave him in 1969 is pretty poor form.

So why does he persist in his Bettelheim complaint? Because as the most important person ever to attack him directly, Bettelheim made a much better foil than a pesky reviewer, a clueless parent, or an uptight librarian. Also, Bettelheim eventually recanted his criticism of the book (according to Sendak) and his most famous book, The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales(1976), makes a Sendakian case for frightful children’s literature. And last, Bettelheim died in 1990, which means he can’t talk back.

I’m not such a prig that I would completely deny Sendak the umbrage he so enjoys. His follow-up to Wild Things, 1970’s In the Night Kitchen, has been vilified and banned across the country. It’s been challenged in schools or libraries by parents or authorities in such places as Camden, N.Y., (1974) Northridge, Ill., (1977) Beloit, Wis., (1985) Champaign, Ill., (1988) Morrisonville, N.Y., (1990) Jacksonville, Fla., (1991) Cornish, Maine, (1991) Elk River, Minn., (1992) and El Paso, Texas, (1994), according to Banned Books: Literature Suppressed on Social Grounds(1998) by Dawn B. Sova, and surely dozens of other places. The book’s naked protagonist, Mickey, has suffered the humiliation of having diapers painted onto him again and again by the bowdlerizers.

But once again, Sendak had to know what taboos he was breaking. In a laudatory New York Times Magazine (subscription required) profile published on June 7, 1970, before the book came out, writer Saul Braun got a peek at the unfinished drawings and wrote:

Instead of warring with Bettelheim—or the bluenoses who have savaged In the Night Kitchen—Sendak should curb the grouching and concede that he owes them a minor debt. There is no cheaper way to market your book than to have it banned or pilloried by the right people. How many of us would have heard of Heather Has Two Mommies if the chowder heads hadn’t tried to suppress it?


Watch the video: Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild things Are, Signed First Edition, 1963. Raptis Rare Books. (June 2022).


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