Remembering Maurice Sendak

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Author Maurice Sendak poses with one of the characters from his book "Where the Wild Things Are," in 1995. (AP)
Author Maurice Sendak poses with one of the characters from his book "Where the Wild Things Are," in 1995. (AP)

Author and illustrator Maurice Sendak died early Tuesday in Danbury, Conn., at the age of 83.

Beloved by children and grown-ups alike, Sendak is best-known for his vividly-illustrated picture books that include: "Where the Wild Things Are," a 1964 classic about the night little Max wore his wolf suit and make mischief of one kind or another; "Chicken Soup With Rice," about a boy who sings a rhyming song for every month of the year; and "In the Night Kitchen," about a boy who falls out of bed and into cake batter in a fantastical kitchen.

Sendak wrote over 100 books during a career that spanned 60 years, selling millions of copies, and winning a Caldecott Medal, the Hans Christian Anderson award, a Laura Ingalls Wilder medal and a National Medal of the Arts.

He didn't set out to revolutionize the children's book genre, however, and didn't consider himself a writer of children's books. In a 2008 interview, Sendak told Here & Now's Robin Young that he wrote about his life and what was happening.

"I wanted to be very very honest," he said. "I also knew that the worst you could do to children is lie, and not appreciate the fact that the truth, no matter how painful, is more acceptable to them than some nonsense story."

Books Reflected Holocaust

Children's book author Maurice Sendak is at his home in Ridgefield, Conn in 2011. (AP)
Children's book author Maurice Sendak is at his home in Ridgefield, Conn in 2011. (AP)

Much of Sendak's writing is personal and based on his experiences as a child and his family's experience during the Holocaust.

During that time, his parents struggled to help members of his mother's family, still in Europe, escape the Nazis, a struggle that is reflected in "Where the Wild Things Are," in the characters of the wild things.

"All the wild were relatives who were brought by my parents during World War II, when they were trying to get Jewish people out of Europe," he said.

It's hard not to read Sendak's books through this particular lens. In "In the Night Kitchen," a boy narrowly escapes being baked in an oven when he falls into some cake batter.

"Did you notice the bakers have little Hitler mustachios?" Sendak said.

And in "Outside Over There," an infant is kidnapped by goblins and big sister Ida must go "outside, over there" to find the baby. Sendak said while his parents were able to get most of his mother's siblings out of Europe during World War II, they were unable to rescue his father's family.

"They did get my grandmother - the only grandparent I have is my mother's mother," he said. "And the stories she told were so frightening. Were so chilling. Jewish people in tiny villages where nobody wanted them. And so they were not the cheerful-est stories."

The Darker Elements

Sendak said he couldn't prevent the darker elements from creeping into his stories. But he didn't think it ought to get in the way of enjoying his work.

"I think it thickens, and makes more profound - if I dare use that word - the work at hand," he said. "That it comes from those sources, I grew up during all of that. I was born just at the beginning of it, and I had to see what sufferings my parents went through. It was not to be believed."

Reaction On Twitter

Though Sendak's stories were often criticized for being too dark and disturbing for children, they left a lasting impact. When news of his death circulated today, many turned to Twitter for their tributes.

Twitter user Andrea Bowen‏ @Andiebo says, "Rest in peace Maurice Sendak. Thank you for making my childhood days ones of magic and whimsy and making my dreams so wonderfully weird."

Young adult author Judy Blume @judyblume Tweets: "Maurice Sendak has died. I cannot put into words what I am feeling, what he and his work meant to me."

John Green @therealjohngreen Tweets: "Maurice Sendak taught me and millions of others that it was no sin to be a child."

This segment aired on May 8, 2012.


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