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Maurice Sendak Please Don’t Go – We Love You So

“Oh please don’t go — we’ll eat you up — we love you so!” –Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are

Earlier this week, celebrated children’s book author and illustrator Maurice Sendak died at the ripe old age of 83. Sendak, for those of you not deeply familiar with his decades of work, was a unique iconoclast not dealing in the usual cute pabulum of children’s lit, but creating a body of work that was haunting, at times unsettling, and always profoundly beautiful. Two of his best known pieces of work where Where The Wild Things Are, and In The Night Kitchen, both of which were initially greeted with much disdain and disapproval when published in the 1960s and 70s (respectively) but have gone on to become, not just classics, but important milestones of illustrated literature.

Sendak, as I mentioned before, was a truly unique and dark character who categorically refused to sugarcoat anything for his young audience. Critics of Sendak said his work was too dark and sinister and revealed his lack of insight into what young children needed from the literature experience (some of this criticism having to do with the fact that Sendak was a childless gay man as well), but on the contrary, Sendak had a deep and profound understanding of the psyche of a child. This was something he had never lost from his own impactful, and rather sad childhood. Sendak was quoted in saying, “I refuse to lie to children,” he said. “I refuse to cater to the bulls**t of innocence.”

His most famous and celebrated book, Where The Wild Things Are, revealed a world where children, who are naturally out of control, exhibit control over their own destiny – a fantasy fraught with fear and pleasure. I wrote about this particular book some years ago for Care2 and said:

“One thematic aspect of the narrative, not to be overlooked, is the childhood (and some would say adult) need for monsters. While most adults would assume monsters are a source of fear for all children, they are only half correct. As the character of Max proves in Where the Wild Things Are, monsters fulfill the need of emotional surrogate as much as they embody the childhood desire for unmitigated and unadulterated power in a world where they often feel powerless. Max conquers the “wild things” and makes them into subjects, or pets, and then allows himself to engage in some truly joyful monstrous behavior. Max controls his ‘wild things’ as he controls his emotions, as well as his elaborate imagination.”

Sendak kept writing well into his 80s and some of his more recent books like Brundibar, and Bumble-Ardy deal with even more unsettling material, with dead or dying parents and Nazis. His books reflect the chaotic and dark worlds that children sometimes catch a glimpse of, and have an inherent need to address and process. A world where adults cannot fight their battles for them, where chaos and clamor ensue, and a place where liberation is in the hands of the child.

But Sendak was not all dark and shadows, he had a light musical heart that celebrated the whimsy and pleasure of childhood as well. This is plainly evident in his collaboration with singer Carole King with 1975s Really Rosie. So worth a view:

What are some of your favorite Maurice Sendak memories? Do you have a book that you keep coming back to? Have you shared these works with your own children?

Read more: Aging, Blogs, Career, Caregiving, Children, Family, Life, News & Issues, Parenting at the Crossroads, , , , , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

16 comments

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1:52AM PDT on May 12, 2012

the artist who creates classic lives in us all.
and elsewhere there were questions recently about whether artists were really necessary...

5:46PM PDT on May 11, 2012

Our fav part of Wild things was always "Let the wild rumpus begin!" and we would bounce all over the bed or couch, whereever we were reading... In the night kitchen is my favorite. I think!

2:21PM PDT on May 11, 2012

RIP :)

1:17PM PDT on May 11, 2012

Oh gee, how sad! Maurice Sendak has passed on. I remember him very well because he was a patient of my ex-boss in NYC. He was SO talented! I had a conversation or two with him on occasion, and you couldn't ask for a nicer guy.

12:56PM PDT on May 11, 2012

Maurice Sendak has had a big, big place in my imagination and my heart and my creativity... His death feels like a big loss, but all his books and writings and all he left behind, a big gift.

First of all and most of all, I loved his illustrations - he combined liveliness and exuberance and a quirky imagination with beautiful rendering. One of my favorites, like Laura H.'s, was Higgelty Piggelty Pop - loved that Jenny!

He COULD render and draw beautifully, and yet he could also work very loosely; like Picasso, he showed me possibilities. (Interestingly, Walt Disney (Fantasia) was a major inspiration to Sendak; Walt Disney AND Sendak were two of my biggest inspirations.)

But the biggest inspiration/encouragement came when I read a book about his career as an illustrator, which had some rough drawings for one of his books, and I looked at them and thought, wow, some of Maurice Sendak's initial drawings are rather feeble-looking, yet he's certainly a wonderful artist - so maybe, just because some of my drawings are pretty feeble, that doesn't mean I'm a bad artist, or not an artist at all... It may sound like a little thing, but, along with all his wonderful work, it meant a lot to me.

9:35AM PDT on May 11, 2012

My favorite is "Higglety Pigglety Pop! or There Must Be More To Life"

8:44AM PDT on May 11, 2012

He will be missed, but the legacy of books and illustrations is enormous and will remain.

6:54AM PDT on May 11, 2012

A great loss. You will be missed.

6:49AM PDT on May 11, 2012

I was fortunate to be able to meet Maurice Sendak when he spoke at Keene State College in NH. I believe it was sometime in the 70's . It was wonderful to hear him speak and I was able to ask him a question at the end of his talk. He said that he named the wild things but didn't use names in the book. When I asked him what the names were, he said, "they were named after my relatives, aunts, uncles etc. but don't tell anyone" :) I don't remember if he told the actual names, but the audience and I got a big kick out of that. He will be missed.

6:14AM PDT on May 11, 2012

I love Maurice Sendak! When I was little Where the Wild things Are was among the biggest family favorites. My mom made a Max costume for my little brother for Halloween. His daughter (age 5) wears it now and has for years!! In college I adopted a cat, and his face was particularly oval, and his eyes golden and large, just like the Wild Things. I didn't know the names of the Wild Things, and didn't want to name him Wild Thing, so I named him Max. His work is melded with our family life....

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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