Maurice Sendak, 1928-2012



Maurice Sendak is gone. Many have talked about his greatness, his revolutionary work, his recognition of the interior lives of even very young children. Others have talked of his effect on their own lives, or how much it meant to them to share his books with children. The internet was full (thankfully) of posts about his psychological insight, links to his gloriously personal interviews, links to articles, and a rebroadcast of that heartbreaking last interview with Terry Gross (what an astonishing compliment he gave her! I would have broken down in tears if I had been Terry.). In fact, it was as if the whole world—or at least my small part of the world—mourned during that rainy Tuesday. And I wept all day long.

 Where the Wild Things Are is a perfect picture book. There aren’t many. Not only is it perfect, but it was revolutionary—and still is. It’s not too much to say this one book changed the world of children’s literature and even our idea of children. I have traveled to see Sendak’s original art and marveled over his genius, his line, his characters, and his imagination. Though printing and production have vastly improved, it is and always will be different and better to see the work itself, the texture of the paper, and to know that a real person created the art you see before you.

Maurice Sendak was one of my heroes. I met him twice, only long enough to shake his hand and tell him how much I admired him and his work, but I know people who knew him well, and he had many friends who loved him dearly. What was in Sendak’s work, though, made me feel deeply connected, and sometimes I felt as if I did know him.  Those Wild Things he claimed derived from his relatives? I had those relatives too.

What he loved he loved passionately, and he was not afraid of putting those passions on the page. He had great courage. He was honest. I can pay him no greater tribute than closing with his own words from that Terry Gross interview.

             “I cry a lot because I miss people. They die and I can’t stop them. They leave me and Ilove them more.”

Thank you, Maurice Sendak.




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5 responses to “Maurice Sendak, 1928-2012

  1. Julie Larios

    I remember asking my Picture Book students a few years ago to read an essay about the way Sendak used the subtlest of techniques to invite the reader into his stories (even using definite articles well – “The night Max made mischief…” not “One night, Max made mischief…” – the latter assumes the reader doesn’t know which night, but the former assumes the reader DOES know.) He used space (“here” and “there”) and time (“then” and “now”) in such a precise way, always as a means of inviting the reader in. He was incredibly generous with children this way, as a writer. So there is the craftsmanship to admire (though it might have come so naturally that he would scoff at any study of it.) I agree with you and so many others, Leda. It’s the way he was both haunted by and attached to the ghosts of his childhood that was the most remarkable aspect of Sendak. He spoke his mind, sometimes honestly enough to surprise the generally sweeter or more reserved community of fellow children’s book authors; he didn’t rein himself in; he wasn’t afraid of being complicated; and he respected the complications of even the youngest children. It sounds like he might have been both a difficult and a beloved friend, both unpredictably opinionated and loving. And oh, my God, he could draw! I think a whole Picture Book course could be based on studying just his books and the interviews he granted – his attitude and how he used it to create art. He was a real presence, that’s for sure – no wonder you and I and so many others are feeling the loss.

  2. Julie Larios

    That should read “The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief…”

  3. timwynnejones

    Here, here. And I have to say that I’ve been loving the commentary about his curmudgeonliness. Liz Renzetti in the Toronto Globe and Mail thanked him for that and made some comment about how inane the relentless pursuit of happiness was, or at least that’s how I remember what she said. Here, here again.

  4. Louise Hawes

    I picked the same drawing, Leda, to memorialize Sendak on Facebook. I think it’s one of the most poignant, moving sketches I’ve ever seen. And yes, that last interview with Terry Gross was indeed heartbreaking, but it was splendid, too. I particularly loved this moment:

    “Girls are infinitely more complicated than boys, and women more than men. And there’s no doubt about that. We just don’t like to think about it. Certainly the men don’t like to think about it. I have lived my whole life with a dream daughter.”

  5. markkarlins

    Thanks for your comments on Sendak. New York Magazine had a picture of him when he was young. It looked like he was paddling on a boat in Central park — young, full of life. I too admire the curmudgeon in the older Sendak, but it was good to see him young.

    A picture form Higglety Pigglety Pop sits on the wall in front of my desk — not the one you posted but with Jenny at the table and Baby on the floor.

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