Very sad news to pass along today … famed children’s book author Maurice Sendak has passed away at the age of 83. Altho Sendak is most famously known for his classic picture book Where the Wild Things Are, he authored a host of other books that have entertained and have shaped the lives of children all around the world. The official cause of death has yet to be released but Sendak suffered a stroke a few days ago and it is believed his death is a result of complications suffered from that stroke. So sad.
Maurice Sendak didn’t think of himself as a children’s author, but as a writer 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. 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 no more frightening than the grownups in his stories or the cloud of the Holocaust that darkened his every page. Rarely was a man so uninterested in being loved so adored. His books sold millions of copies and his most curmudgeonly persona became as much a part of his legend as “Where the Wild Things Are,” his signature book, and a hit movie in 2009. Communities attempted to ban his work, but he also had friends in the most powerful places. 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. 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 … 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 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,” he said. 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.”
Unlike other “kiddie book authors”, Maurice Sendak did not shy away from the “darker” aspects of childhood. He presented tales to children that weren’t all sunshine and light … he showed them the truth, that light cannot exist without darkness. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that people respect Maurice Sendak for his honesty of vision. Where the Wild Things Are is a hugely important book in terms of popular culture and it will remain a favorite of children for many, many generations to come. The world feels a little less wild today with Sendak‘s passing but hopefully he can rest eternally in the comfort of knowing that he made the world a better place by sharing his craft with the children of the world.