RIP, Maurice Sendak

Beloved children's author Maurice Sendak, creator of Where the Wild Things Are, is dead at 83. Here's some of what The Guardian's Michelle Pauli has to say about him.

The wild things of Max's imagination were based on Sendak's own relatives. He was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Polish Jewish immigrant parents and was aware, in his early teens, of the death of much of his extended family in the Holocaust. The terrors of his childhood specifically, and childhood more generally, flow through his work. "I refuse to lie to children," he said in an interview with the Guardian last year. "I refuse to cater to the bullshit of innocence."

Sendak also said that the term "children's illustrator" annoyed him, since it seems to belittle his talent. "I have to accept my role. I will never kill myself like Vincent Van Gogh. Nor will I paint beautiful water lilies like Monet. I can't do that. I'm in the idiot role of being a kiddie book person," he said.

"I refuse to lie to children," is probably the best kids'-author manifesto statement ever.

Maurice Sendak, father of the Wild Things, dies at 83

(Image: Wild Things, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from maxbraun's photostream)


  1. Although I appreciate the man’s work, I have to say the imagery of The Wild Things can be the stuff of nightmares.  And maybe that’s the point.  The child running off to rule these monsters rather than be ruled by them.  Still, it can be disturbing for young children used to more nurturing fare ( i.e. Winnie the Pooh).  

      1.  My 5-year old doesn’t want that book in the same room with him.  My 18-month old giggles and says “monsters.”  Different kids like/are terrified by different things.

        1. The books he illustrated for Ruth Krauss are great as well.  Esp “A hole is to dig” and “A very special house”.

  2. I recall a few years ago a group of parents mounted a campaign against violence in childrens’ books and specifically targeted McFarlane’s character “Spawn” and asked why couldn’t there be more material like Sendak’s. Sendak wrote a pointed response in which he defended Spawn and accused those parents who were condemning scary violent children’s material of actually short-changing their kids mental development. I wonder myself if the frightening nightmares of children and the kinds of fairytale monsters within are a way of integrating instinctual fears so that the child can face the reality of adulthood in an adjusted and balanced way. 

    1.  So much of childhood is a rehearsal for adulthood, especially through reading.  Scary books might trigger nightmares, but they’re ultimately safe. — the reader is in no danger.  Being scared while reading a book gives the reader a chance to think about how they’d react if they were the character.  If the character is successful, then the reader has some new strategies to add to their repertoire.  If the character isn’t so successful, then the reader can think about why and will know that that’s not how they should react.  Most of this isn’t conscious thinking, but it happens nonetheless.

      1. When I used to tell people about this book they didn’t believe that it was real – or that there was someone actually named Bruno Bettelheim.

  3. one of my first favorite books, and still one of my all time favorites. let the wild rumpus begin.

  4. This is a book of his that not a lot of people know about The Juniper Tree . It is Sendak’s selection of the original Grimm’s fairy tales, edited by him and illustrated. If you haven’t ever read the original stories they are a far cry from the modern versions – makes Where the Wild Things Are look very tame by comparison (incest, kids being eaten by their parents, abandonment) – so this is not a book I’d recommend to young kids. However, it is a book my daughter and I treasure.

    1. Oh I just saw that there was an author involved in selecting and editing the stories and he was the illustrator only.

  5. I bought and read them all to my son, and he loved them. I read them to my four grandsons and they loved them. Now I’m reading them to my great grandson and they’re his favourites.  Tis’ a sad  day deep in the heart of Texas.

  6. WTWTA was my favorite book as a kid…and it still is. Instantly one can go back to childhood by reading it and discover that, in fact, that the dinner that was set out for us is still hot.

    R.I.P Mr. Sendak, thank you.

  7. That is tragic. I was read and read and read Where the Wild Things Are when I was a kid. I still have my battered copy of it, and now my kid brother is being read it and loves it to pieces.

    Goddamnit. Well. LET THE WILD RUMPUS BEGIN ! For Maurice.

  8. And there’s the children’s musical “Really Rosie”  based on some of Sendak’s works — don’t know if it’s still popular, but in the late 1970s-early 1980s, it was sort of the cliche musical to perform (the way “The Music Man” was for high school).

    1. There is an animated version of Really Rosie, as directed by Sendak himself, available for viewing on Youtube.

  9. Some of the better illustrations I’ve seen in general have been in the last few years of reading children’s books to my kid.

    I disagree with any sentiment that anyone would have ever expressed to Sendak that any “kiddie book” illustrators lacked talent.  Should any of them arise in the near future, please send them directly to me so they might receive their fisticuffs and thrashings.

    Sad week in our house, first my teenage idol MCA and now my childhood one.  If the guy who created the clown lamp with balloons I had next to my bed very early on that I liked so much is out there reading this, best of health to you.

    1. I was going to link to the same thing – I know NPR “driveway moments” are a thing but  I sat in my car in a parking structure to listen to that entire interview, it was incredibly moving. 

      And while I know I read at least Where The Wild Things Are as a kid, as far as I can remember it didn’t really stick with me – so it wasn’t just a nostalgia thing, the interview is just very moving as you say.

    2. This quote made me cry:

      ‎”I have nothing now but praise for my life. I’m not unhappy. I cry a lot because I miss people. They die and I can’t stop them. They leave me and I love them more. … What I dread is the isolation. … There are so many beautiful things in the world which I will have to leave when I die, but I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready.”

  10. All three of my kids absolutely adored WTWTA  and I believe all three could recite it word for word before they could read.  As I type this on a computer in our rec/kids room there is a framed illustration of the Wild Rumpus on the wall.  The only book that has inspired any kind of fear reaction in my kids was oddly enough Elmo’s “The Monster at the End of the Book”.  My 4 year old up until about a year ago was terrified of muppets.  But he always loved the Wild Things.   (He’s come around on the Muppet fear now.)
      I love seeing Sendak interviewed.  He’s such an original soul and always seems to speak from the heart without a care of what anyone thinks.  If you’re ever in Seattle around the holidays, go see the Nutcracker by the Pacific NW Ballet.  Sendak did the stage and costume design and it’s spectacular! 

  11. Fuck! Just fuck! I’m so sad about this. This emoticon represents my actual true feelings:   :(,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,      No joke. Rest in peace, you awesome, grumpy queer.

  12. Long before I heard the news, I put on my “Where the Wild Things Are” t-shirt out of a sense of fun. Now I wear it with a sense of poignancy.

  13. “I refuse to lie to children,” is probably the best kids’-author manifesto statement ever.


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