‘Wild’ at heart: Maurice Sendak dead at age 83
The beloved creator of “Where The Wild Things Are” passed away from complications from a heart attack Tuesday.
Growing up with a kindergarten teacher for a mother I was constantly surrounded by the latest children’s books. “Here, read this and see if it’s pretty or interesting.” I was a rather poor critic of literature for five-year-olds during fifth grade, but I certainly was a good judge of “pretty.” It was difficult because I was already on a high school reading level that year. She is an awesome educator and even better parent. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom! … Small wonder I double majored in communications and design.
One of the few graces of getting old—and God knows there are few graces—is that if you’ve worked hard and kept your nose to the grindstone, something happens: The body gets old but the creative mechanism is refreshed, smoothed and oiled and honed. That is the grace. That is what’s happening to me.
Maurice Sendak (20th century), U.S. children’s author and illustrator. As quoted in an interview with Leonard S. Marcus, Parenting (October 1993). Read more at http://quotes.dictionary.com/One_of_the_few_graces_of_getting_old#eTb178wxA1V8uQHG.99
New York Times reporter Margalit Fox writes this piece on my perennial children’s illustrator favorite Maurice Sendak.
Maurice Sendak, Children’s Author, Dies at 83
Maurice Sendak, widely considered the most important children’s book artist of the 20th century, who wrenched the picture book out of the safe, sanitized world of the nursery and plunged it into the dark, terrifying and hauntingly beautiful recesses of the human psyche, died on Tuesday in Danbury, Conn. He was 83.
The cause was complications of a recent stroke, said Michael di Capua, his longtime editor. Mr. Sendak, who died at Danbury Hospital, lived nearby in Ridgefield, Conn.
Roundly praised, intermittently censored and occasionally eaten, Mr. Sendak’s books were essential ingredients of childhood for the generation born after 1960 or thereabouts, and in turn for their children. He was known in particular for more than a dozen picture books he wrote and illustrated himself, most famously “Where the Wild Things Are,” which was simultaneously genre-breaking and career-making when it was published by Harper & Row in 1963.
Among the other titles he wrote and illustrated, all from Harper & Row, are “In the Night Kitchen” (1970) and“Outside Over There” (1981), which together with “Where the Wild Things Are” form a trilogy; “The Sign on Rosie’s Door” (1960); “Higglety Pigglety Pop!” (1967); and “The Nutshell Library” (1962), a boxed set of four tiny volumes comprising “Alligators All Around,” “Chicken Soup With Rice,” “One Was Johnny” and “Pierre.”
In September, a new picture book by Mr. Sendak, “Bumble-Ardy” — the first in 30 years for which he produced both text and illustrations — was issued by HarperCollins Publishers. The book, which spent five weeks on the New York Times children’s best-seller list, tells the not-altogether-lighthearted story of an orphaned pig (his parents are eaten) who gives himself a riotous birthday party.
A posthumous picture book, “My Brother’s Book” — a poem written and illustrated by Mr. Sendak and inspired by his love for his late brother, Jack — is scheduled to be published next February.
Mr. Sendak’s work was the subject of critical studies and major exhibitions; in the second half of his career, he was also renowned as a designer of theatrical sets. His art graced the writing of other eminent authors for children and adults, including Hans Christian Andersen, Leo Tolstoy, Herman Melville, William Blake and Isaac Bashevis Singer.
In book after book, Mr. Sendak upended the staid, centuries-old tradition of American children’s literature, in which young heroes and heroines were typically well scrubbed and even better behaved; nothing really bad ever happened for very long; and everything was tied up at the end in a neat, moralistic bow.
Headstrong and Bossy
Mr. Sendak’s characters, by contrast, are headstrong, bossy, even obnoxious. (In “Pierre,”“I don’t care!” is the response of the small eponymous hero to absolutely everything.) His pictures are often unsettling. His plots are fraught with rupture: children are kidnapped, parents disappear, a dog lights out from her comfortable home.
A largely self-taught illustrator, Mr. Sendak was at his finest a shtetl Blake, portraying a luminous world, at once lovely and dreadful, suspended between wakefulness and dreaming. In so doing, he was able to convey both the propulsive abandon and the pervasive melancholy of children’s interior lives.
His visual style could range from intricately crosshatched scenes that recalled 19th-century prints to airy watercolors reminiscent of Chagall to bold, bulbous figures inspired by the comic books he loved all his life, with outsize feet that the page could scarcely contain. He never did learn to draw feet, he often said.
In 1964, the American Library Association awarded Mr. Sendak the Caldecott Medal,considered the Pulitzer Prize of children’s book illustration, for “Where the Wild Things Are.” In simple, incantatory language, the book told the story of Max, a naughty boy who rages at his mother and is sent to his room without supper. A pocket Odysseus, Max promptly sets sail:
And he sailed off through night and day
and in and out of weeks
and almost over a year
to where the wild things are.
There, Max leads the creatures in a frenzied rumpus before sailing home, anger spent, to find his supper waiting.
As portrayed by Mr. Sendak, the wild things are deliciously grotesque: huge, snaggletoothed, exquisitely hirsute and glowering maniacally. He always maintained he was drawing his relatives — who, in his memory at least, had hovered like a pack of middle-aged gargoyles above the childhood sickbed to which he was often confined.
Maurice Bernard Sendak was born in Brooklyn on June 10, 1928; his father, Philip, worked in the garment district of Manhattan. Family photographs show the infant Maurice, or Murray as he was then known, as a plump, round-faced, slanting-eyed, droopy-lidded, arching-browed creature — looking, in other words, exactly like a baby in a Maurice Sendak illustration. Mr. Sendak adored drawing babies, in all their fleshy petulance.
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