Creator Of Where The Wild Things Are - Maurice Sendak

Maurice-Sandek-article-header-image for him and his characters

If you know the name Maurice Sendak there’s a good chance it is because of his incredibly popular and much-adapted picture book, Where the Wild Things Are. This book follows the adventures of Max, a young boy who has a strange dream when he is sent to bed without any supper after he gets up to mischief at home. In his dream world Max meets wicked beasts called Wild Things, and that is when things get even more exciting.

This children’s book was published in 1963, and it was awarded the Caldecott Medal in 1964. In the decades since then, it has been turned into an animated short film, an opera, and a live action movie. I could spend all day writing about the delightful story and about how much I love Sendak’s illustrations, but I wanted to share what I found out about the man behind the classical children’s book instead.

The Shadow of War

Maurice Bernard was born to Sadie and Philip Sendak in Brooklyn, New York City, on the 10th of June 1928. His father was a dressmaker who along with his wife, were Jews who had immigrated to the USA from Poland.

Maurice Sendak was a young boy when World War 2 broke out. Speaking in an interview, he described how that period was a difficult one. Even though he, his older siblings Natalie and Jack, and his parents enjoyed the safety of life in America, many of their Polish family members were murdered during the Holocaust. Instead of enjoying a carefree childhood, the boy had to face difficult questions about life, death and mortality.

He developed problems with his health, and had to spend an extended period in his bed. Reading was one of the few things he was able to do, and that is when his love of classical children’s books began. However, it was only when he watched Walt Disney’s Fantasia at a 12-year-old that Maurice Sendak decided he wanted to be an illustrator. He went on to work on displays for the famous FAO Schwarz toyshop in New York, and he illustrated a textbook as well as books for children written by other authors. Two of those children’s books were written by his brother Jack.

Inspiration and Illustration

Walt Disney’s feast of animation and classical music was not the only inspiration in the creative world of Maurice Sendak. The writer and illustrator of award-winning children’s books also spoke about how he was inspired by memories of his father telling him stories from the Torah when he was a boy. According to Sendak, his father used to add naughty details, which the boy repeated at school, only to have the teachers send him home!

Sendak also described how Mickey Mouse brought joy in to his childhood, and he named Mozart, Herman Melville, and Emily Dickinson as inspirations too.

Notable Sendak Books

Although Maurice Sendak had worked as an illustrator for years before Where the Wild Things Are was published, it was the story about Max and the monsters that made him famous. Before that, some readers knew his name because he illustrated the Little Bear books by Else Holmelund Minarik.

It is difficult to believe that some parents had issues with the Wild Things in Sendak’s first major publication. Believe it or not, they deemed the classical children’s book unsuitable for little ones because the monsters were too grotesque.

In the Night Kitchen, published in 1970, was another of his works that caused controversy; something it continues to do. The story is about a three-year-old boy who dreams about a magical kitchen. What causes the upset is that the boy is shown without any clothing.

Outside Over There causes far fewer ruffled feathers. It was published in 1981, and it lets us see what happens when Ida must rescue her baby sister, who has been kidnapped by goblins.

Making the World a Better Place

In addition to writing and illustrating children’s books, Sendak also worked in children’s television, adapted books for theatre stages, designed sets, adapted an opera, and collaborated with artists in various media.

Maurice Sendak and his partner Eugene Glynn lived together for 50 years, until Glynn passed away in 2007. Glynn was a psychoanalyst who worked at the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services. Following his death, the classical children’s books author’s estate donated $1 million dollars to the board for a new clinic. He died on 8 May 2012, following a stroke at 83 years old.

Sendak once said that one of the best compliments he had ever received was in a letter from a young boys mother. She told him that her son loved a hand-drawn card that Sendak had sent in reply to her son’s letter so much, that he ate it.

Like Sendak’s children’s books, the Toby the Tugboat books can help bring a bit of joy into the lives of young people. However, I wouldn’t recommend eating the pictures!

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