Posted by: jeannineatkins | September 14, 2008

Happy 80th Birthday, Maurice Sendak

We can wish him happy, but Maurice Sendak is not much of a happy guy. It’s understandable re poor health, losses, a harsh childhood, but still kind of a shame, given how beloved some of his books are, especially Where the Wild Things Are. But just because you win a Caldecott and your work is adored and fabled editor Ursula Nordstrom made you sandwiches and kept you in work and you happen to own Beatrix Potter’s walking stick doesn’t mean you don’t get to be sour. Some people, say, wear cardigans and don’t mind repeating, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.” And others, decades later, can’t forgive their aunts and uncles for being annoying, and make beautiful art of their anger.

Of course I’m going to love someone who said: “I’ve never spent less than two years on the text of one of my picture books, even though each of them is approximately 380 words long.” (Worlds of Childhood, Zinsser, p. 16) My favorite Sendak work includes the tender illustrations for Else Minarik’s Mother Bear books. I’m also fond of The Nutshell Library, that small box of four books. And while I’m for darkness in children’s books as it pervades their lives, I’m still not such a fan of more recent books that verge on Gothic.

I heard my favorite story about Where the Wild Things Are so long ago that I can’t remember who told it. But a teacher in a classroom with a student who could, but never did, talk, read the picture book. This silent child got up, nodded at the book, and said, “I need that.” This sounds mythic, maybe urban legend, but I believe it’s true. Or true enough.

Here’s a recent article where Sendak comes straight out and says he hates people. (Dogs are okay.) Maybe it was his name, my husband said. Who wants to be named Maurice? The article is written in anticipation of a sold out celebration at the 92 Street Y tomorrow, and when I read it through again, I realized the actual birthday was a few months ago. I’d already bought the ingredients for a cake, so my children’s lit students should be happy even if the celebrant is not so much. (I was first just going to read Wild Things, but what kind of party is that?)

Mr. Sendak, excuse the sap, but we love you!



  1. thanks for the link I wanted to read that article!
    I met Mr. Sendak for less than 10 seconds at the Eric Carle museum and it was very obvious that he was not fond of people, especially not the ones who wanted to say hello to him! Oh well. He was given love whether he wanted it or not I guess! : )

  2. I think you’ll enjoy the article, though there is quite a litany of what he does not like! His angst, well, I guess it got him somewhere. Still, he should have been happy to meet you! If you get back to the Carle please let me know — it’s in my neighborhood — and I for one will be MOST happy to say hello!

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