Maurice Sendak, author of `Where the Wild Things Are,' dies at 83


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Maurice Sendak, Children’s Author Who Upended Tradition, Dies at 83

Joyce Dopkeen/The New York Times
Maurice Sendak at his Ridgefield, Connecticut home with his German Shepherd, Herman, in 2006.


Published: May 8, 2012

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 83and lived in Ridgefield, Conn.

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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.
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.
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.
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All are welcome
Just saw this on "Yahooo-ooo-ooo!" Sendak was brilliant. His works were a major part of my childhood. Now they are enjoyed by my children...mostly just "Where the Wild Things Are." A lot of his stuff is dated. No offense to the deceased. Now I feel like shit.



I shot the sheriff
Me too. I remember the Little Bear books from when I was a kid, and I ended up reading them to mine.
I remember another classic called Chicken Soup with Rice.


Registered User
I liked how after Tony Soprano got killed in the diner, he was reincarnated into a furry troll creature that wanted to eat kids.

On a serious note, liked the book, but aside from money being a reason, he should've never went along with allowing a movie version of that book.


The 9/11 Moon Landings Were An Outside Job
I honestly thought the Where the Wild Things Are movie was insanely brilliant. One of the best movies about childhood I'd ever seen.


This space intentionally left blank.
I totally forgot about Chicken Soup with Rice. I'll have to get a copy of that one for my daughter.


Darkness always says hello.
I was always partial to Pierre. Guess that speaks volumes of my character.


RIP, Maurice.


Guess who's back? Hoffman's back
This guy obviously knew too much and Obama wanted him out of the way.


It's My Birthday!
In The Night Kitchen was another great one, trippy as hell. This guy ranks up there with Stan Lee in defining my childhood reading. RIP.


I want to fuck your girlfriend.
I read his stuff when I was a kid. RIP, sir.


Registered User
I had no idea that book was 50 years old. RIP sir.

which is why I figured the guy had been dead for 30 years

of course I also thought J R R Tolkien wrote The Hobbit & Lord of the Rings back in the 1700s

CM Mark

The East is Ours!
I live in Ridgefield. It is huge news and basically the whole town is in mourning. I loved his books growing up, and even though I never plan to have kids myself, my fiancee agrees thankfully, I may have to go out and buy new copies of all his books. I remember Pierre and Chicken Soup with Rice, but didn't realize that they were him as well.