Author Maurice Sendak, a forever favorite of children around the world for his magical stories and inventive illustrations — including his classic Where The Wild Things Are — died on Tuesday at the age of 83.
His publisher said Sendak, who had a long history of heart trouble, died in Danbury, Connecticut, after complications from a recent stroke.
Critics and admirers have said it is impossible to imagine children’s literature without Sendak, whose whimsical works penned throughout a 60-year career have been read by millions and translated into dozens of languages.
Playwright Tony Kushner has called Sendak “one of the most important writers and artists ever to work in children’s literature.”
“In fact, he’s a significant writer and artist in literature. Period,” Kushner said.
In Where The Wild Things Are, Sendak’s 1963 masterpiece, a little boy named Max, as a punishment for misbehaving, is sent to his room without supper by his mother.
Max is transported to a make-believe world inhabited by fearsome monsters, whom he tames before making his way back home again — with supper waiting for him after all.
Sendak won the Caldecott medal, the highest honor in US children’s literature, for the book, notable for its terrifying yet oddly lovable monsters.
“If Max were not in control of them, they could indeed be in control of him,” Sendak said in an interview rebroadcast recently on National Public Radio.
“The fun of that book,” Sendak told NPR, “is the perilous tightrope between him being a little boy, very vulnerable to these huge creatures, and the absurdity of his having control over them by staring into their yellow eyes.”
Sendak was born in Brooklyn, New York on June 10, 1928, to Polish-Jewish immigrant parents. A sickly child, he turned at a young age not only to reading, but to penning and sketching his own stories.
At the age of 12, he went with this family to see the Walt Disney movie Fantasia, which inspired him to create his own inventory of fictional characters. He said that writing as a child saved him from an unhappy, stifling childhood raised by too-strict parents.
“I was expected to be a decent child... and to just shut up and be a quiet kid. I hated them [his parents] for a long time, but I don’t anymore because God knows, it’s a blessing to have a quiet kid,” he told the US radio broadcaster.
As an adult, Sendak started his career as a freelance book illustrator, creating the illustrations for nearly 50 children’s books, including the acclaimed Little Bear series.
Other perennial favorites are Really Rosie, In the Night Kitchen, Outside Over There and Pierre, which is about a child who always says “I don’t care.”
In addition to the Caldecott, Sendak has been honored with a Newbery medal, the international Hans Christian Andersen Award, a National Book Award, the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award and a National Medal of Arts.
He also created memorable set designs for numerous leading US ballet and opera companies.