Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Maurice Sendak: Nightmares Vanquisher

Having recently seen an interview of Maurice Sendak on TV, it was hard to imagine such a clever and vital man had died. Yes, I know he was 83 and he looked his age, but he didn't SEEM to be old at all. His death is headline news today. The headlines identify him as the author/illustrator of "Where the Wild Things Are." Yet, there was so much more to the man.

Maurice Sendak (1928-2012) was born in Brooklyn, NY, to Jewish immigrants. He was a sick as a child and spent a lot of his time reading books. Later in his childhood, he came to love illustrating after seeing Disney's "Fantasia." By age 20, he was a window dresser at F.A.O.Schwarz and taking night classes at New York Art Students' League.

Four years after completing his studies, he received his first recognition as an illustrator with the publication of Ruth Krauss' book, "A Hole to Dig." Although he wasn't trying to write typical children's books, his reputation was as a children's story teller - if scary situations can be considered fit for children. Naturally, there were those who took exception to this notion.

Sendak had a different idea about the world of children. He had grown up in a home where daily life was punctuated by much sorrow and grief. His parents were successful in rescuing his mother's family from Poland during the Holocaust, but by the time they were able to rescue his father's family, there was no one left to rescue - all were dead. As Sendak said, “I grew up in a house that was in a constant state of mourning.” In that sense, his books were autobiographical. He understood how it feels to be frightened and how someone so young lack the skills to vanquish their fears. His aim in all his books was to pose the question, "...how do children survive?"

Today's New York Times' headline referred to Sendak as the "Author of Splendid Nightmares." The best description I've read about the aims of Sendak's writings is a quote from Morven Crumlish in The Guardian:"...these are no cautionary tales – there is no gruesome moral shoving a reluctantly impressionable reader towards conforming to the neat, the quiet and the un-troublesome. Instead, they wake up happily in their beds, supper is still warm, there is milk in the morning."

RIP, Maurice. You turned your own childhood fears and sorrows into nightmares that can be vanquished - even by small children.


  1. I grew up reading his books. He'll be missed. Theo

  2. NPR's radio article yesterday was absolutely illuminating. This was a rare human.

  3. Thanks, R! I missed the news, but read your blog! A beautiful tribute to his creative and original spirit.