Quill and Quire


« Back to

Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are, dies at age 83

Where the Wild Things Are, 1963

He is known for upending the traditions of American children’s fiction – for taking it out of the safe confines of the home and plunging it into darker, more raucous places.

Maurice Sendak was wildly popular, sometimes misunderstood, and not always well received. But it’s safe to say he will be remembered. Often called one of the most important figures in 20th-century children’s literature, the author and self-taught illustrator died Tuesday at age 83 due to complications from a recent stroke.

From The New York Times:

Roundly praised, intermittently censored and occasionally eaten, Mr. Sendak’s books were essential ingredients of childhood ¦ His visual style could range from … airy watercolors reminiscent of Chagall to bold, bulbous figures inspired by the comic books he loved all his life, with outsize feet that the page could scarcely contain. He never did learn to draw feet, he often said.

Born in Brooklyn in June 1928* , Sendak’s longtime career began in 1952 when he illustrated Ruth Krauss’s A Hole Is To Dig. His children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are was published by Harper & Row in 1963. Other popular titles include In the Night Kitchen (1970), Outside Over There (1981), The Sign on Rosie’s Door (1960), Higglety Pigglety Pop! (1967) and The Nutshell Library (1962, which includes Alligators All Around, Chicken Soup With Rice, One Was Johnny and, Pierre”).

In the 1980s, toward the second half of his career, Sendak designed sets and costumes for ballets and operas produced by major houses in the U.S. and England, including Mozart’s The Magic Flute and Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker.

In September 2011, a new picture book, Bumble-Ardy (the first book he wrote and illustrated in 30 years), was published by HarperCollins, and a posthumous picture book, My Brother’s Book (inspired by his late brother, Jack), is to be published in February 2013.

Throughout his career, Sendak was the recipient of numerous awards, including the 1964 Caldecott Medal for Where the Wild Things Are, the 1970 Hans Christian Andersen Medal for illustration (the only American ever honoured with the award), and the 1983 Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, given by the American Library Association to acknowledge his works as a whole.

In 1996, President Bill Clinton presented him with the National Medal of the Arts, saying he single-handedly revolutionized children’s literature. In 2003, Sendak received the first Astrid Lingdren Memorial Award, which was established by the Swedish government to recognize children’s literature internationally.

*CORRECTION, MAY 8: An earlier version of this post stated that Sendak’s birth year was 1948.