Wednesday, May 9, 2012

It All Began with Max

Maurice Sendak, who inspired us all to go have fun with the phrase, "let the wild rumpus begin," died yesterday at age 83.

"Every once in a while, someone comes along who changes our world for the better," Susan Katz, publisher of HarperCollins Children's Book, said in a statement. "Maurice Sendak was such a man."

His most famous picture book Where the Wild Things Are won the Caldecott Medal in 1964 and has remained fantastically popular ever since.

Reading it aloud has been a bedtime ritual for at least three generations and the book is considered one of the 10 bestselling children's books of all time.

Over his amazing career, Sendak illustrated about 80 books and won countless awards for his illustrations. Like Dr. Seuss, he shook up the status quo and became an icon almost instantly.

By the time Where the Wild Things Are came out, Time magazine had already dubbed Sendak "the Picasso" of children's literature. And by 1971, the Los Angeles Times was hailing him as the "Norman Mailer of children's books."

The story of the naughty boy in a wolf costume was like no children's book before it. It was edgy and rebellious, and it keyed into children's fears of wild beasts lurking in the night.

When first released, it provoked a collective "Oh my" from child experts, who thought it was too scary. But popular opinion soon eclipsed their rumblings and children began begging their parents to read it again and again.

My "Max"
I'll never forget my middle son reciting it line by line as he waited for me to flip back to the front of the book and begin again. His love of the story at age 3 inspired a Max costume in the picture to the right.

Sendak often drew themes from childhood. He grew up in Depression-era Brooklyn, a sickly boy listening to Jewish relatives talk about the Holocaust. (The beasts in Where the Wild Things Are were homages to his immigrant family's brooding yet intensely loving presence.)

As a writer and illustrator, he didn't want to shield children or condescend to them. He wanted to represent them for who they are, with all their flaws, energy and spirit -- like Max, who storms off to his room without his supper.

Sendak trusted his instincts, and with boldness and honesty, pushed the boundaries of the protective, happy-ever-after world of children's books. He showed that children's stories could also be wonderfully imperfect -- even a little dangerous.

Of course Where the Wild Things Are is just one of many amazing books Sendak went on to author and/or illustrate. He also wrote and illustrated In the Night Kitchen in 1970 and Outside Over There in 1981, and illustrated author Ruth Kraus'  A Hole is to Dig, and author Else Holmelund Minarik's Little Bear series.

In 1996, then-President Bill Clinton awarded Sendak the National Medal of Arts, and just last year, Sendak gave us one final and glorious gift, the picture book Bumble-Ardy.

"He was a glorious author and illustrator, an amazingly gifted designer, a blisteringly funny raconteur, a fierce and opinionated wit, and loyal friend to those who knew him," HarperCollins Katz said.

Sendak died early Tuesday from complication due to a stroke.

No comments:

Post a Comment