Maurice Sendak: Dead at 83, the beloved writer who showed children where the wild things were

 

Nick Clark
Wednesday 09 May 2012 12:38
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Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are, one of the most influential and best-loved children's books of the past 50 years, has died at the age of 83. The writer and illustrator, whose books entranced generations of children, died at a hospital close to his home in Connecticut. He had suffered complications after having a stroke on Friday.

Where the Wild Things Are, which has sold close to 20 million copies, caused controversy at the time of its release in 1963 because of its dark tone, but it also inspired thousands of fans, many of whom wrote to Sendak in correspondence he treasured.

Philip Nel, children's literature expert and professor of English at Kansas State University, called Sendak "the best of his generation". "He's the best artist-for-children of the 20th century – a century that has brought us the astonishing, transformative work of Dr Seuss, Beatrix Potter and Chris Van Allsburg," he said. "Sendak was a giant among giants. And still is."

Sendak was born in Brooklyn in 1928 to Polish immigrant parents. The dark nature of his work can be traced back to his own childhood, when he tried to come to terms with the news of relatives who died in the Holocaust. He was also deeply affected by the kidnapping of the son of Charles Lindbergh in 1932.

Sendak was a sickly child, and his love of books developed from bouts confined to his bed, while his love of drawing stretched back even earlier. At the age of 20, he secured a job working on window displays for the US toy store FAO Schwarz, then he landed a commission to illustrate a book, which led to more work. Kenny's Window in 1956 was the first he wrote and illustrated himself.

The publication of Where the Wild Things Are brought him wider attention. Despite the controversy, the American Library Association awarded him the Caldecott Medal for best book of the year. In his acceptance speech he said: "From their earliest years children live on familiar terms with disrupting emotions. Fear and anxiety are an intrinsic part of their everyday lives. And it is through fantasy that children achieve catharsis." He later told an interviewer that Disney was "terrible" for children.

Where the Wild Things Are, which relays the raucous imaginings of a lonely boy called Max, was adapted into a film in 2009 by the director Spike Jonze and the author Dave Eggers.

Sendak wrote and illustrated many other titles throughout his career. His last picture book was Bumble-Ardy, published in 2011.

Tony Kushner, a US playwright who wrote Angels in America, said Sendak was "one of the most important, if not the most important, writers and artists ever to work in children's literature".

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