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Who is Maurice Sendak?

By O. Wallace
Updated Mar 06, 2024
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Maurice Sendak, a beloved children’s books author and illustrator, was born 10 June 1928 in Brooklyn, New York. As the child of Polish-Jewish parents who immigrated to the US, Sendak lived his childhood virtually shut-in, closed off from the world outside, due to illness. Books were his primary source of entertainment, and they proved to be his best companions throughout his childhood. His imagination blossomed during this time, due to his limited exposure to the world. The Walt Disney movie, Fantasia, which he first saw at 12 years of age, would be one of his biggest influences.

Sendak illustrated throughout childhood. His first published illustrations appeared in Atomics for the Millions, which was a textbook published in 1947. As a young adult, Sendak worked for F.A.O. Schwartz, dressing windows, while attending night class at the New York Art Students League. Early illustrating jobs include The Wonderful Farm by Marcel Ayme and A Hole is to Dig by Ruth Krauss. As his style developed, it became obvious that Sendak preferred to create illustrations to heighten the “mystery” of the tale, rather than to simply illustrate it.

Where the Wild Things Are, published in 1963, was the first book to give him major exposure. Sendak, who wrote and illustrated the book, tells the story of Max, a little boy who creates a world of lovable monsters. It has since sold more than 200 million copies, translated into 15 languages. In the Night Kitchen, written in 1970 is another of Sendak’s most loved and popular books. Sendak has gone on to write and illustrate more than 50 children’s books, as well as illustrate numerous books authored by others.

Maurice Sendak has made a name for himself as an author who is willing to address issues in children’s books that many shy away from. Some of his topics are rather dark and serious, and for younger children, particularly frightening. He has addressed poverty, homelessness among children, and the Holocaust, causing some of his books to end up on the most oft-challenged and banned books list published by the American Library Association (ALA). Many of these topics were derived from childhood experiences and family influences. It is said that the watchful moon included in most of his works symbolizes his beloved, protective mother.

For the most part, Sendak creates art for the enjoyment of children, and has done so through many different forms of media. He worked with Carole King on Really Rosie, an animated TV movie. Sendak produced a production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, and adapted Where the Wild Things Are for opera. He has also illustrated the English translation of Brundibar, a Czech children’s opera. For adults, he illustrated Herman Melville’s Pierre:, or the Ambiguities, the Kraken edition.

Sendak has received numerous awards for his work, including the Caldecott Medal, the Hans Christian Andersen Award and the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. For fans of Where the Wild Things Are, it will be adapted to live action film in 2008. The script, written by Dave Eggers, will be directed by Spike Jonze.

PublicPeople is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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