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Sendak, Maurice (1928-2012)  
 
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Best known for his children's book Where the Wild Things Are (1963), award-winning author Maurice Sendak was an important voice in children's literature over the last half of the twentieth century, writing and illustrating books that both acknowledge the fears, conflicts, and doubts faced by children and celebrate the imagination, creativity, and resilience with which they deal with them.

The youngest of three children of Jewish immigrants from Poland, Maurice Sendak, born June 10, 1928 in Brooklyn, New York, was a sickly child and spent much time inside watching other children play. A precocious observer of their antics, he would later incorporate their personalities, their creativity, both their fear and mastery of monsters, and their indomitable spirit into his books.

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Sendak's father encouraged his son's imagination by telling him traditional stories from his homeland and from the Bible for which the young Maurice made illustrations and his older brother Jack wrote the text.

As a child Sendak was fascinated by comic books, a medium that combined pictures and text. In high school he wrote and illustrated a comic strip for the school paper.

To the disappointment of his parents, Sendak did not attend college but did develop his talent at the Arts Students League in New York.

Sendak and his brother designed mechanical wooden toys that they hoped to sell to F.A.O. Schwartz. They were unsuccessful in that project, but Sendak was hired as a window-dresser at the company's New York store. The artistry of his work led to a commission to illustrate Robert Garvey's Good Shabbos, Everybody (1951).

Through his work at F.A.O. Schwartz, Sendak met Ursula Nordstrom, an editor at Harper, who recognized his talent and became a mentor, arranging for him to illustrate a number of children's books. His work on Ruth Krauss's A Hole Is to Dig (1952) established him as a first-rate illustrator. The success of that project allowed Sendak to quit his job at the toy store and work at his art.

Because of his versatility, Sendak quickly became and prolific and popular illustrator, but Nordstrom urged him to find his own voice and produce stories that he would both write and illustrate.

His first two independent books, Kenny's Window (1956) and Very Far Away (1957), achieved some success, but it was with The Sign on Rosie's Door (1960) that he began to attract attention as a writer. Rosie, based on a girl whom he remembered from his childhood days in Brooklyn, was typical of his youthful protagonists—bold, self-reliant, and possessed of a vivid imagination.

In 1963 Sendak published the book for which he is most famous, Where the Wild Things Are, which quickly became a classic of children's literature.

"I don't think that Wild Things is my best book," stated Sendak in a 2003 interview. "I do realize that Where the Wild Things Are has permitted me to do all kinds of books that I probably never would have done had it not been so popular. I think I took good advantage of that popularity to illustrate books that I passionately wanted to do without having to worry if they were commercial or not."

Where the Wild Things Are was a radical departure from the typical children's books of the time: it contained no moral lesson, and it dealt with how youngsters use fantasy to cope with and conquer their fears.

Some adults felt that the monsters in the book might be too frightening for children, but Sendak insisted on the resilience of youngsters confronted with new, real, and fearsome situations and emotions. In accepting the Caldecott Medal for children's literature in 1964, he spoke of "the necessary games children must conjure up to combat an awful fact of childhood: the fact of their vulnerability to fear, anger, hate, frustration—all the emotions that are an ordinary part of their lives and that they perceive only as ungovernable and dangerous forces. To master these forces, children turn to fantasy: that imagined world where disturbing emotional situations are solved to their satisfaction."

Sendak continued to do copious work as an illustrator as well as producing independent works, including Higglety, Pigglety, Pop! or There Must Be More to Life (1967) and In the Night Kitchen (1970).

In 1981 Sendak published what he called in 2003 "my best work," Outside over There, the tale of a baby who is kidnapped by goblins and whom his older sister must rescue.

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Maurice Sendak in a TateShots interview broadcast on YouTube.
  
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