As one of the most celebrated children's authors of the latter half of the 20th century, Maurice Sendak had the distinction of writing and illustrating Where the Wild Things Are (1963), a then-controversial story of a young boy channeling his anger into his vivid imagination that later become one of the most popular bedtime stories of all time. Where the Wild Things Are captured the imagination of millions of children across generations and cemented Sendak's place as a popular author. Prior to that success, Sendak had a steady career as an illustrator on a number of other authors' books and began writing his own in the late 1950s. He wrote and illustrated other popular books like The Nutshell Library (1962) series - which was adapted into "Really Rosie: Starring the Nutshell Kids" (CBS, 1975) - the award-winning In the Night Kitchen (1970), Seven Little Monsters (1977) and Outside, Over There (1981). In the 1980s, he began designing sets for operas and musicals like Mozart's "The Magic Flute" and Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker." But it was his work as an illustrator and author that continued to interest new generations of fans, while the enduring legacy of Where the Wild Things Are stretched all the way to 2009, when it was adapted into a major motion picture directed by Spike Jonze. Though he wrote and illustrated only one book in the last 30 years of his career, Sendak lived on as a pioneering author loved by both children and adults alike.
Born June 10, 1928 in Brooklyn, NY, Maurice Bernard Sendak was the child of Polish Jewish immigrant parents, Sarah and Philip. Not surprisingly, the specter of the Holocaust hung over him from birth, with many of his extended family members having perished. Highly imaginative and aware of the concept of mortality from a young age, Sendak grew up fascinated by all things grotesque. The artistry of Walt Disney's "Fantasia" (1940) convinced him at 12 years old to pursue illustration as a career, and he would use his artistic eye to create F.A.O. Schwarz window displays before earning his first professional credit illustrating the 1947 textbook Atomics for the Millions. in 1948, he met Ursula Nordstrom, a children's book editor at Harper & Row and soon he began to build an impressive career as an illustrator of other authors' books like The Wonderful Farm (1951) by Marcel Aymé, A Very Special House (1953) by Ruth Krauss, The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong, and Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Farm (1954) by Betty MacDonald. His most notable illustrations were for Else Holmelund Minarik's famous Little Bear series, which was popular enough to become both a television series and feature film decades later.
In 1956, Sendak wrote and illustrated his own book, Kenny's Window, and soon began his career as a prominent children's author with titles like Very Far Away (1957) and The Sign on Rosie's Door (1960). He went on to write a four-book series called The Nutshell Library (1962), which included Alligators All Around (An Alphabet), Chicken Soup with Rice (A Book of Months), One Was Johnny (A Counting Book) and Pierre (A Cautionary Tale). Sendak struck gold as the author and illustrator of 1963's Where the Wild Things Are, which told the story of a misbehaving young boy named Max who after being sent to bed without supper, exorcises his anger by imagining the titular land and its monstrous creatures. Charming, dreamy and a little frightening, the book attracted controversy due to its alleged wildness - the monsters were semi-grotesque caricatures of Sendak's aunts and uncles - and was banned from many libraries. Eventually, however, critics, librarians and teachers realized how popular the book had become among young readers and parents, as well as how masterfully it had tapped into so many overwhelming emotions all children shared: anger, destructiveness, guilt, loneliness and ultimately love.
For his masterpiece, Sendak won the 1964 Caldecott Medal and saw Wild Things take on a life of its own, with the characters merging into popular culture as true classics of childhood, passed down from generation to generation, as well as being turned into a 1973 animated short, a 1980 opera, and a live-action, big-budget movie in 2009 directed by Spike Jonze and produced by Tom Hanks. These projects made Sendak and his work popular all over the world, ultimately resulting in over 19 million copies sold worldwide. After Higglety Pigglety Pop!, Or: There Must Be More to Life (1967), he wrote and illustrated his next classic, 1970's In the Night Kitchen, which again drew widespread praise as well as controversy. Like Wild Things, it refused to talk down to children and presented its own uncompromising universe, telling the story of a young boy, Mickey, whose dreaming is interrupted when he falls into a mysterious nighttime world called "The Night Kitchen," where the next day is baked. During his tumble into this world, Mickey loses his clothes, and the images of a fully naked child - although not drawn to titillate - caused the book to be censored, challenged and banned by many libraries.
Turning to television, Sendak adapted The Nutshell Library into the animated TV musical special "Really Rosie: Starring the Nutshell Kids" (CBS, 1975), which featured voice work by Carole King and was directed by the author himself. He went back to writing and illustrating children's books with Seven Little Monsters (1977), which he later adapted into a television series on PBS from 2000-03. Meanwhile, he produced another classic with Outside, Over There (1981), which told the tale of a young girl named Ida who tries to rescue her baby sister after she has been taken by goblins. The book was in part inspired by the Lindbergh kidnapping in 1932 and won the National Book Award for Children's Books in the Picture Books (Hardcover) category. Stepping outside of the world of childhood imagination, Sendak designed sets for a variety of operas and plays, including a Houston Grand Opera's rendition of Mozart's "The Magic Flute" (1981), an award-winning production of Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker" (1983), and a 1990 production of Mozart's "Idomeneo" in Los Angeles.
Though he continued to illustrate a number of books for other authors, including The Golden Key by George MacDonald and The Miami Giant (1995) by Arthur Yorinks, Sendak's own work become increasingly infrequent, writing only two books in the 1990s: We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy (1993) and Maurice Sendak's Christmas Mystery (1995). In 1996, Sednak was awarded with the American National Medal of the Arts by President Bill Clinton, and designed the sets for Engelbert Humperdinck's "Hansel and Gretel" (1997). While steadily working as an illustrator, he collaborated with playwright Tony Kushner on an English-language version of the Czech children's opera "Brundibar" (2003) and published his first-ever pop-up book, Mommy? (2006). The following year, he suffered personal loss when life-long partner, psychoanalyst Dr. Eugene Glynn, died of cancer. In interviews, Sendak revealed that he had kept his traditional-minded parents unaware of his homosexuality in an effort to keep them happy. Meanwhile, after years in development, "Where the Wild Things Are" (2009) was released as a feature film starring newcomer Max Records, Chris Cooper, James Gandolfini and Catherine Keener. Sendak released his final book, Bumble-Ardy (2011) - his first in 30 years - and the following year, amused a new generation of fans with an equal parts witty and charmingly grumpy interview with comedian Stephen Colbert on "The Colbert Report" (2005- ). Only Four months after, he suffered a fatal stroke on May 8, 2012. He was 83 years old.
By Jonathan Riggs and Shawn Dwyer
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Completed ¿rst book illustrations for Atomics for the Millions
Worked as window display artist at F.A.O. Schwarz in NYC; met Ursula Nordstrom, children¿s book editor at Harper & Row
Illustrated ¿rst children¿s book, Marcel Aymé's The Wonderful Farm
Wrote and illustrated his first book Kenny¿s Window
Published four-book collection The Nutshell Library, which included Chicken Soup with Rice
Earned international acclaim with Where the Wild Things Are, about a boy who imagines a world inhabited by monsters
Won prestigious Caldecott Medal from the American Library Association for Where the Wild Things Are
Wrote and illustrated Higglety, Pigglety, Pop! or, There Must be More to Life in honor of beloved dog Jennie
Received the Hans Christian Andersen Award for children's book illustration from the Queen of Sweden; dedicated In the Night Kitchen to his parents
Moved to Connecticut
Wrote and directed "Really Rosie" (CBS), featuring the voice of Carole King
Wrote and designed opera adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are
Featured in Selma Lanes' biography The Art of Maurice Sendak
Wrote and illustrated Outside Over There, about a girl who rescues her baby sister from goblins
Awarded with the American National Medal of the Arts by President Bill Clinton
Collaborated with playwright and friend Tony Kushner on English version of Brundibar, based on a Czech children's opera
Longtime partner Dr. Eugene Glyn died of cancer
Co-produced feature film adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are, directed by Spike Jonze; featured voices of James Gandolfini and Chris Coooper
Wrote and illustrated first book in thirty years Bumble-Ardy