Tuesday, May 8, 2012
A Wild Thing peers over the shoulder of celebrated children’s book author and illustrator Maurice Sendak, 1928-2012.
Alas, that's where Maurice Sendak will be for the foreseeable future, having joined the legions of the Formerly Living. Sendak, one of the most influential children’s book authors and illustrators of the past century, died today at the age of 83 from complications following a stroke.
Sendak’s peculiar genius lay in his ability to perceive the world through a child’s mind as well as eyes. He understood the fears, joys, concerns, and imperfections of children almost as though he had never grown up; this understanding formed the underpinnings of his unique writing and illustration. His characters were flawed, full of childish enthusiasms and emotions - and his books contrasted sharply with virtually everything else one might find on the shelf in the Children’s Book Department. To readers accustomed to Disney, Milne, and Seuss, Sendak was an eye-opening polar opposite.
Where the Wild Things Are, considered by many to be Sendak’s magnum opus, came out in 1963. By that time, I was eleven years old - too old to read it as a children’s book. But I discovered it, along with the brilliant In the Night Kitchen, in 1970 when the latter book was published. At that point in my life, I could appreciate both works as literature and as art... and I was blown away.
Sendak was a contemporary of my parents and, like them, he was born in Brooklyn. It’s entirely possible that they may have crossed paths in their early years.
Maurice Sendak was a true original, and the world of children’s books - nay, the world of Literature - will be the poorer for his absence. Requiescat in pace, Mr. Sendak!