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Thoughts on Maurice Sendak

As I’m sure you’ve all heard, Maurice Sendak passed away this morning at the age of 83. Certainly, I was saddened by the news, as Where the Wild Things Are and the Nutshell Library were a part of my early childhood like so many others. And like so many other newish parents, I’ve come back to Sendak recently, sharing both books with my sons, as well as adding In the Night Kitchen and Little Bear into the mix. If one mark of success for a picture book artist is a book that speaks across generations, then Sendak’s career was truly unparalleled.

That said, I distinctly recall back when I started in kids’ books that Sendak was looked upon less than favorably by his peers. Partly, I think there was some jealously of his success, but I also think there was a feeling that he turned his back on the children’s book community. In particular, back in the 1990s Sendak spent a lot of time on the college lecture circuit (I saw him give a fantastic talk as an undergrad), which definitely rubbed some people the wrong way, for both of the aforementioned reasons. And, of course, there was his famously prickly demeanor, which didn’t always seem so lovable to those on the inside…

But I also wonder if his lack of picture book production over the last two decades had something to do with it. Most working picture book artists average at least a book a year, if not two, and by going so long between books, I think he may have heightened both the jealously and resentment factors. Certainly, that’s an old story with artists—those who deny the audience what they want run the risk of losing their fans.

Yet whether it was a conscious decision to curry favor, a sense of mortality, or whether it was just where his art took him, his recent spate of activity—the Wild Things movie, Brundibar, Bumble-Ardy, palling around with Stephen Colbertcertainly drew him back into the fold. And so it’s good to see all the tributes to him across the internet, especially from the children’s book community.

But really, the ultimate tribute will come tonight, when literally millions of children will go to sleep to his words—I know my kids will be two of them.

2 Responses to Thoughts on Maurice Sendak

  1. WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE stands out in my memory as one of those books that, when I think about it, instantly brings to mind specific images of my childhood. I remember the wallpaper in the room where it sat on a bookshelf. I remember the faces of my neighborhood friends, the woods where we played, and the tall rock cliff that we leapt from, swinging on the rope tied from the tree above.

    Sendak contributed to the vividness of our imagination, I think. We played with make believe monsters of our own, or ran from them in adventures inspired by that book. I’m sad to see him go.

    Recently, my wife and I rented the movie version of WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. Better than the movie is the making of, found in the Extras, which apparently was a very collaborative experience between Spike Jonze and Sendak. Definitely worth a rent.

  2. Anthony says:

    One of my favorite aothurs of all time a favorite childhood memory of mine is reading In The Night Kitchen with my mom. This post makes me want to reread the books of his that I still have including higgledy pigglety pop

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