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Maurice Sendak: 1928-2012

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Illustration by Maurice Sendak

NYT reports the sad news of the death of Maurice Sendak on May 8:

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 and lived in Ridgefield, Conn.

The cause was complications from a recent stroke, said Michael di Capua, his longtime editor.

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.

The Guardian adds:

The bulk of his work lay in illustrating other writers, but it was his own, far fewer, books which brought him countless international awards and academic honours, and made him the subject of many a thesis. At first, Where the Wild Things Are and its follow-up, In the Night Kitchen (1970), caused outraged shock at their robust portrayal of children’s fears and aggression; Sendak’s fantasy was always “rooted 10ft deep in reality”, and with such passions as William Blake, Samuel Palmer and George Cruikshank, and the German Philipp Otto Runge, as well as the Brothers Grimm, he gave the glow of the old Romantics a contemporary Freudian edge.

The Wild Things were actually modelled, he said, on his Jewish uncles and aunts who racketed around his childhood, unpredictably and on the whole in a well-intentioned if slightly threatening vein. In 2009, Sendak, discussing Spike Jonze’s film version of Where the Wild Things Are, rejected parental concerns about the book being too scary: “I would tell them to go to hell,” Sendak said. If children couldn’t handle the story, they should “go home. Or wet your pants. Do whatever you like.”


Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

May 8, 2012 at 5:32 pm

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