Sendak, Maurice 1928–
Sendak, Maurice 1928–
PERSONAL: Born June 10, 1928, in Brooklyn, NY; son of Philip (a dressmaker) and Sarah (Schindler) Sendak. Education: Attended Art Students' League, New York, NY, 1949–51.
ADDRESSES: Home—Ridgefield, CT. Office—c/o HarperCollins Children's Books, 1350 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019. Agent—Steven Barclay Agency, 12 Western Ave., Petaluma, CA 94952.
CAREER: Writer and illustrator of children's books, 1951–. Worked for comic book syndicate All American Comics part-time during high school; Timely Service (window display house), New York, NY, window display artist, 1946; F.A.O. Schwartz, New York, NY, display artist, 1948–51. Co-founder and artistic director of Night Kitchen (national children's theater), 1990–. Parsons School of Design, Yale University, former instructor; May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecturer, 2003. Set and costume designer for opera productions in the United States and Great Britain, including Mozart's The Magic Flute, for Houston Grand Opera, 1980; Leos Janacek's The Cunning Little Vixen, for New York City Opera, 1981; Serge Prokofiev's Love for Three Oranges, for Glyndebourne Opera, 1982; Mozart's The Goose of Cairo, for New York City Opera, c. 1984; Idomeneo, for Los Angeles Opera, 1988; and Maurice Ravel's L'enfant et les sortileges and L'heure espagnol, both for New York City Opera, both 1989; designer for The Nutcracker: The Motion Picture, 1986. Has appeared in film The Lively Art of Picture Books, c. 1965, and "Mon Cher Papa" (episode of television series American Masters), Public Broadcasting Service, 1987. Executive producer, Little Bear animated television series, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 1995. Sendak's illustrations have been displayed in one-man shows at the School of Visual Arts, New York, NY, 1964, Rosenbach Foundation, Philadelphia, PA, 1970 and 1975, Trinity College, 1972, Galerie Daniel Keel, Zurich, Switzerland, 1974, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford University, 1975, American Cultural Center, Paris, France, 1978, and J. Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, NY, 1981. Lecturer at schools and libraries; Ar-buthnot Lecturer, 2003.
MEMBER: Authors Guild, Authors League of America.
AWARDS, HONORS: New York Times Best Illustrated Book award, 1952, for A Hole Is to Dig, 1954, for I'll Be You and You Be Me, 1956, for I Want to Paint My Bathroom Blue, 1957, for The Birthday Party, 1958, for What Do You Say, Dear?, 1959, for Father Bear Comes Home, 1960, for Open House for Butterflies, 1962, for The Singing Hill, 1963, for Where the Wild Things Are, 1964, for The Bat-Poet, 1965, for The Animal Family, 1966, for Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories, 1968, for A Kiss for Little Bear, 1969, for The Light Princess, 1970, for In the Night Kitchen, 1973, for The Juniper Tree and Other Tales from Grimm and King Grisly-Beard, 1976, for Fly by Night, 1981, for Outside over There, and 1984, for The Nutcracker; Caldecott Medal runner-up, American Library Association, 1954, for A Very Special House, 1959, for What Do You Say, Dear?, 1960, for The Moon Jumpers, 1962, for Little Bear's Visit, 1963, for Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present, 1971, for In the Night Kitchen, and 1982, for Outside over There; Spring Book Festival honor book, 1956, for Kenny's Window; Caldecott Medal, and Lewis Carroll Shelf award, both 1964, International Board on Books for Young People award, 1966, Art Books for Children award, 1973, 1974, 1975, Redbook Best Young Picture Books Paperback Award, 1984, and Children's Choice award, 1985, all for Where the Wild Things Are; Chandler Book Talk Reward of Merit, 1967; Hans Christian Andersen International Medal, 1970, for body of illustration work; Art Books for Children award, 1973, 1974, 1975, and Redbook award, 1985, for In the Night Kitchen; American Book Award nomination, 1980, for Higglety Pigglety Pop!; or, There Must Be More to Life; Boston Globe/Horn Book award, and New York Times Outstanding Book designation, both 1981, and American Book Award, 1982, all for Outside over There; Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, Association for Library Service to Children, 1983, for "substantial and lasting contribution to children's literature;" National Medal of the Arts from President Bill Clinton, 1996; Visual Arts Award, National Foundation for Jewish Culture, 1998; L.H.D., Boston University, 1977; honorary degrees from University of Southern Mississippi, 1981, and Keene State College, 1986.
FOR CHILDREN; SELF-ILLUSTRATED
Kenny's Window, Harper (New York, NY), 1956, reprinted, 2004.
Very Far Away, Harper (New York, NY), 1957.
The Acrobat, privately printed, 1959.
The Sign on Rosie's Door, Harper (New York, NY), 1960, reprinted, 2002.
Nutshell Library (verse; contains Chicken Soup with Rice: A Book of Months, One Was Johnny: A Counting Book, Alligators All Around: An Alphabet, and Pierre: A Cautionary Tale), Harper (New York, NY), 1962.
Where the Wild Things Are, Harper (New York, NY), 1963, 25th anniversary edition, 1988, miniature edition, HarperFestival (New York, NY), 1992.
Hector Protector and As I Went over the Water: Two Nursery Rhymes, Harper (New York, NY), 1965.
Higglety Pigglety Pop!; or, There Must Be More to Life, Harper (New York, NY), 1967.
In the Night Kitchen, Harper (New York, NY), 1970.
Ten Little Rabbits: A Counting Book with Mino the Magician, Philip H. Rosenbach, 1970.
Pictures by Maurice Sendak, Harper (New York, NY), 1971.
Maurice Sendak's Really Rosie (based on the television program of the same title; also see below), Harper (New York, NY), 1975.
(With Matthew Margolis) Some Swell Pup; or, Are You Sure You Want a Dog?, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1976.
Outside over There, Harper (New York, NY), 1981.
We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy: Two Nursery Rhymes with Pictures, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1993.
M.L. Eidinoff and Hyman Ruchlis, Atomics for the Millions (for adults), McGraw (New York, NY), 1947.
Robert Garvey, Good Shabbos, Everybody!, United Synagogue Commission on Jewish Education, 1951.
Marcel Ayme, The Wonderful Farm, Harper (New York, NY), 1951.
Ruth Krauss, A Hole Is to Dig: A First Book of Definitions, Harper (New York, NY), 1952.
Ruth Sawyer, Maggie Rose: Her Birthday Christmas, Harper (New York, NY), 1952.
Beatrice Schenck de Regniers, The Giant Story, Harper (New York, NY), 1953.
Meindert de Jong, Hurry Home, Candy, Harper (New York, NY), 1953.
Meindert de Jong, Shadrach, Harper (New York, NY), 1953.
Ruth Krauss, A Very Special House, Harper (New York, NY), 1953, reprinted, 2002.
Hyman Chanover, Happy Hanukkah, Everybody, United Synagogue Commission on Jewish Education, 1954.
Ruth Krauss, I'll Be You and You Be Me, Harper (New York, NY), 1954.
Edward Tripp, The Tin Fiddle, Oxford University Press, 1954.
Marcel Ayme, Magic Pictures, Harper (New York, NY), 1954.
Betty MacDonald, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Farm, Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1954.
Meindert de Jong, The Wheel on the School, Harper (New York, NY), 1954.
Ruth Krauss, Charlotte and the White Horse, Harper (New York, NY), 1955, reprinted, 2002.
Meindert de Jong, The Little Cow and the Turtle, Harper (New York, NY), 1955.
Jean Ritchie, Singing Family of the Cumberlands, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1955.
Beatrice Schenck de Regniers, What Can You Do with a Shoe?, Harper (New York, NY), 1955, reprinted, Alladin (New York, NY), 2001.
Jack Sendak, The Happy Rain, Harper (New York, NY), 1956, reprinted, 2002.
Meindert de Jong, The House of Sixty Fathers, Harper (New York, NY), 1956.
Ruth Krauss, I Want to Paint My Bathroom Blue, Harper (New York, NY), 1956, reprinted, 2002.
Ruth Krauss, Birthday Party, Harper (New York, NY), 1957.
Jack Sendak, Circus Girl, Harper (New York, NY), 1957, reprinted, 2002.
Ogden Nash, You Can't Get There from Here, Little, Brown (New York, NY), 1957.
Else Holmelund Minarik, Little Bear, Harper (New York, NY), 1957.
Meindert de Jong, Along Came a Dog, Harper (New York, NY), 1958.
Else Holmelund Minarik, No Fighting, No Biting!, Harper (New York, NY), 1958.
Ruth Krauss, Somebody Else's Nut Tree, Harper (New York, NY), 1958.
Sesyle Joslyn, What Do You Say, Dear?: A Book of Manners for All Occasions, W.R. Scott, 1958.
Else Holmelund Minarik, Father Bear Comes Home, Harper (New York, NY), 1959.
Janice Udry, The Moon Jumpers, Harper (New York, NY), 1959.
Hans Christian Andersen, Seven Tales, Harper (New York, NY), 1959.
Wilhelm Hauff, Dwarf Long-Nose, Random House (New York, NY), 1960.
Else Holmelund Minarik, Little Bear's Friend, Harper (New York, NY), 1960.
Ruth Krauss, Open House for Butterflies, Harper (New York, NY), 1960, reprinted, 2002.
Janice Udry, Let's Be Enemies, Harper (New York, NY), 1961.
Clemens Brentano, The Tale of Gockel, Hinkel, and Gackeliah, Random House (New York, NY), 1961.
Else Holmelund Minarik, Little Bear's Visit, Harper (New York, NY), 1961.
Sesyle Joslyn, What Do You Do, Dear?, Young Scott Books, 1961.
Clemens Brentano, Schoolmaster Whackwell's Wonderful Sons, Random House (New York, NY), 1962.
Charlotte Zolotow, Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present, Harper (New York, NY), 1962.
Meindert de Jong, The Singing Hill, Harper (New York, NY), 1962.
Leo Tolstoy, Nikolenka's Childhood, Harper (New York, NY), 1963.
Robert Keeshan, She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not, Harper (New York, NY), 1963.
Randall Jarrell, The Bat-Poet, Collier (London, England), 1964.
Amos Vogel, How Little Lori Visited Times Square, Harper (New York, NY), 1964.
Jan Wahl, Pleasant Fieldmouse, Harper (New York, NY), 1964.
William Engvick, editor, Lullabies and Night Songs, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1965.
Randall Jarrell, The Animal Family, Pantheon (New York, N), 1965.
Isaac Bashevis Singer, Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories, Harper (New York, NY), 1966.
George Macdonald, The Golden Key, Harper (New York, NY), 1967, second edition, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1984.
Robert Graves, The Big Green Book, Crowell (New York, NY), 1968.
Frank Stockton, Griffin and the Minor Canon, Collins (London, England), 1968.
Else Holmelund Minarik, A Kiss for Little Bear, Harper (New York, NY), 1968.
George Macdonald, The Light Princess, Bodley Head (London, England), 1969, revised edition, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1969.
Frank Stockton, The Bee-Man of Orn, Holt (New York, NY), 1971.
Doris Orgel, Sarah's Room, Bodley Head (London, England), 1971.
Jakob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm, The Juniper Tree, and Other Tales from Grimm, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1973.
Marie Catherine Jumelle de Berneville Aulnoy, Fortunia: A Tale by Mme. D'Aulnoy, translated by Richard Schaubeck, Frank Hallman, 1974.
Randall Jarrell, Fly by Night, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1976.
Jakob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm, King Grisly-Beard: A Tale from the Brothers Grimm, Harper (New York, NY), 1978.
E.T.A. Hoffman, The Nutcracker, translated by Ralph Manheim, Crown (New York, NY), 1984.
Philip Sendak, In Grandpa's House, translated and adapted by Seymour Barofsky, Harper (New York, NY), 1985, reprinted, 2002.
Dear Mili: An Old Tale by Wilhelm Grimm (based on a letter by Wilhelm Grimm), translated by Ralph Manheim, Michael Di Capua Books/Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1988.
(With Garth Williams) Jerome Griswold, The Children's Books of Randall Jarrell, University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 1988.
Iona and Peter Opie, I Saw Esau: The Schoolchild's Pocket Book, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 1992.
Arthur Yorinks, The Miami Giant, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1995.
Herman Melville, Pierre; or, The Ambiguities, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1996.
Heinrich von Kleist, Penthesilia: A Tragic Drama (verse drama), translated by Joel Agee, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1996.
James Marshall, Swine Lake, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1999.
Else Holmelund Minarik, Little Bear and the Missing Pie, HarperFestival (New York, NY), 2002.
Else Holmelund Minarik, Little Bear's Wagon, Harper-Festival (New York, NY), 2002.
Else Holmelund Minarik, Little Bear's Egg, HarperFestival (New York, NY), 2002.
Also illustrator of Little Stories by Gladys B. Bond, Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith. Contributor of illustrations to McCall's and Ladies' Home Journal.
Fantasy Sketches (published in conjunction with one-man show at Rosenbach Foundation), Philip H. Rosenbach, 1970.
(Editor and author of introduction) Maxfield Parrish Poster Book, Crown (New York, NY), 1974.
(Author of appreciation) The Publishing Archive of Lothar Meggendorfer, Schiller, 1975.
(And director and lyricist) Really Rosie, Starring the Nutshell Kids (animated television special; based on characters from The Nutshell Library and The Sign on Rosie's Door; broadcast on Columbia Broadcasting System, 1975; also see below), music composed and performed by Carol King, Harper (New York, NY), 1975.
(Editor) The Disney Poster Book, illustrated by Walt Disney Studios, Harper (New York, NY), 1977.
(Lyricist and set designer) Really Rosie (musical play; revised from the television special of the same title), music by Carol King, first produced in London, England, then Washington, DC, 1978, produced off-Broadway, 1980.
(Lyricist and set and costume designer) Where the Wild Things Are (opera; based on his book of the same title), music by Oliver Knussen, first produced by Opera Nationale, Belgium, 1980; produced by New York City Opera with Mozart's The Goose from Cairo, 1984.
(Author of introduction) Jean de Brunhoff, Babar's Anniversary Album, Random House (New York, NY), 1981.
Collection of Books, Posters, and Original Drawings, Schiller, 1984.
(With Frank Corsaro) The Love for Three Oranges: The Glyndebourne Version (dialogue), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1984.
(Librettist and set and costume designer) Higglety, Pigglety, Pop! (opera), first produced by Glyndebourne Opera, Glyndebourne, England, 1984.
(Author of commentary) Jonathan Cott, editor, Masterworks of Children's Literature, Volume 7, Chelsea House (Broomall, PA), 1984.
(Photographer) Rudolf Tesnohlidek, The Cunning Little Vixen, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1985.
(Author of introduction) Jonathan Cott, Victorian Color Picture Books, Stonehill Publishing/Chelsea House (Broomall, PA), 1985.
Posters, Harmony Books (New York, NY), 1986.
(Author of foreword) John Canemaker, Winsor McCay: His Life and Art, Abbeville Press, 1987.
Caldecott & Co.: Notes on Books and Pictures, Michael Di Capua Books/Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1988.
(Author of introduction) Mickey Mouse Movie Stories, Abrams, 1988.
Maurice Sendak Book and Poster Package: Wild Things, Harper (New York, NY), 1991.
(With others) Worlds of Childhood: The Art and Craft of Writing for Children, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1998.
(With others) HarperCollins Treasury of Picture Book Classics, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2002.
Many of Sendak's books have been translated into foreign languages; Where the Wild Things Are has been translated into sixteen languages. Collections of Sendak's manuscripts are kept at the Museum of the Philip H. and A.S.W. Rosenbach Foundation, Philadelphia, PA, and in the Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.
ADAPTATIONS: Film strips with cassettes were produced by Weston Woods of Where the Wild Things Are, 1968, and Pierre, Chicken Soup with Rice, Alligators All Around, and One Was Johnny, all 1976; Where the Wild Things Are was adapted as a ballet, music by Randall Woolf, produced by American Repertory Ballet, 1997, and was also made into an audio cassette, Caedmon, 1988; a film of In the Night Kitchen was produced by Weston Woods, 1988; Higglety Pigglety Pop! was adapted as a Braille book and a record by Caedmon Records; toy "Wild Thing" dolls were created by Harper; a television series produced by Nelvana (Canada) was based on the "Little Bear" books with accompanying videos produced by Alliance Video; Where the Wild Things Are was scheduled to be produced by Universal Studios in 2004. Seven Little Monsters, by Arthur Yorinks, is based on Sendak's characters and published by Hyperion in 2003. A series of books based on the Little Bear Movie, with illustrators chosen by Sendak and text by Else Holmelund Minarik, were published by HarperCollins in 2002: A Present for Mother Bear, The Search for Spring, To Grandmother's House, Father's Flying Flapjacks, Little Bear's Valentine, and Little Bear's New Friend.
SIDELIGHTS: The first American to win a Hans Christian Andersen International Medal, Maurice Sendak developed, during the course of his long career, into a major figure in the evolution of children's literature during the second half of the twentieth century. With books such as his Caldecott-winning Where the Wild Things Are, Sendak has led the way in trying to create more realistic child characters who are not the nostalgic models of innocence and sweetness that inhabited children's books before the 1960s. By creating drawings inspired by everything from nineteenth-century illustrators to twentieth-century cartoon artists, Sendak has also demonstrated an artistic adaptability that is unconventional. Because of these deviations from what were once considered acceptable forms of writing and illustrating for children, despite his popularity among readers, Sendak has also been the object of some controversy. However, Jill P. May observed in Journal of Popular Culture that "although Sendak's works seem disgusting to some U.S. educators, librarians, and parents, his books are found in most public libraries and elementary school libraries." And authorities such as writer and critic John Rowe Townsend, author of Written for Children: An Outline of English-Language Children's Literature, con-sider Sendak "the greatest creator of picture books in the hundred-odd years' history of the form."
Critics of Sendak's work often argue that youngsters are not ready for the themes and images he presents. "Sendak has forthrightly confronted such sensitive subject matters as childhood anger, sexuality, or the occasionally murderous impulses of raw sibling rivalry," explained Selma G. Lanes in The Art of Maurice Sendak. This "honesty has troubled or frightened many who would wish to sentimentalize childhood—to shelter children from their own psychological complexity or to deny that this complexity exists," commented Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor John Cotham. For the artist this exploration of children's feelings has been more of a personal quest than a desire to break new ground in juvenile literature. Many of his books refer—to a greater or lesser degree—to his own past experiences. "Primarily," Sendak revealed in Steven Heller's Innovators of American Illustration, "my work was an act of exorcism, an act of finding solutions so that I could have peace of mind and be an artist and function in the world as a human being and a man. My mind doesn't stray beyond my own need to survive."
The son of Jewish immigrants from Poland, Sendak grew up in a poor Brooklyn neighborhood with his older brother, Jack, and sister, Natalie. A number of factors in the artist's early life prevented him from having a normal, stable childhood. One problem was that his family never stayed in one neighborhood for very long, moving from apartment to apartment every time their landlords painted, because Sendak's mother could not stand the smell of fresh paint. Sendak had a hard time making friends not only because of this, but also because he was very sickly—he suffered from measles, double pneumonia, and scarlet fever between the ages of two and four. Because his parents were reluctant to let their son go outside and play for fear he would become sick and die, young Sendak spent much of his time in bed, looking out his bedroom window at the other children playing and becoming obsessed with the idea that he might not have long to live. "I was a miserable kid," he confessed to Lanes.
Fortunately, Sendak found escape through drawing, books, movies, music, and his own imagination. Contrary to what one might think a future writer and artist would read as a child, Sendak mostly read comic books—especially those featuring Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters—and his artwork clearly reflects this early influence. He also loved to go to the local theater and watch musicals and comedies like the Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy films. One area where Sendak did deviate in his tastes for popular American culture was in his love of classical music, especially the music of Mozart. He often listened to classical music on the radio, and he would have taken piano lessons except that his parents could only afford lessons for his older brother, Jack.
Sendak found an inexpensive way to express his creativity in drawing and writing stories. During his many long days spent sick in bed, the young artist sketched the people and houses in his neighborhood, dreaming up fantasies for them to be in. "There is not a book I have written or picture I have drawn that does not, in some way, owe [those neighborhood children] its existence," the artist revealed in Lanes's Down the Rabbit Hole: Adventures and Misadventures in the Realm of Children's Literature. He learned to make up stories from his father, who amused his children with fantastic tales he would improvise. "Sendak feels that his father's stories were the first important source from which his work developed," explained Cotham. When he was about seven years old, Sendak and his brother, Jack, started writing down stories on cardboard discarded from shirt wrappings. Later, Jack also became a children's author, and two of his books have been illustrated by Sendak.
Sendak's first step toward becoming a professional illustrator came in high school when he worked on backgrounds for the comic strips "Mutt and Jeff," "Tippy," and "Captain Stubbs"; he also wrote his own comic strip for his school newspaper and illustrated a physics book, Atomics for the Millions, for one of his teachers. After he graduated, Sendak did not go to college as his father wished because he hated school and was eager to leave the strictures of the classroom as soon as possible. Instead, he worked for two years in a warehouse in Manhattan. Leaving that job in 1948, Sendak designed mechanical wooden toys with Jack, and they tried to sell them to the famous New York toy company F.A.O. Schwartz. Their plan did not succeed, but Sendak was hired to work on the store's window displays. One of his displays was seen by noted illustrator Leonard Weisgard, who offered Sendak a commission to illustrate Good Shabbos, Everybody.
At the same time Sendak was working for Schwartz he attended the Art Student's League, where he received encouragement from one of his instructors, John Groth, who told him that his time would be better spent if he left school and actively practiced his art in the real world. This idea appealed to Sendak. He left the art school and tried submitting his drawings to publishing houses, but was rejected many times by editors who saw his work as old-fashioned. Indeed, Sendak had been influenced very early by such nineteenth-century illustrators as George Cruikshank, John Tenniel, Wilhelm Busch, and Louis Maurice Boutet de Monvel, the last whose intricate, cross-hatching style was nothing like the simpler style preferred by book editors in the 1940s and 1950s.
Then F.A.O. Schwartz's children's book department head Frances Christie introduced Sendak to Harper and Brothers editor Ursula Nordstrom. It was Nordstrom who gave Sendak his education in the business of book publishing, and she also carefully selected books for the artist to illustrate that would help him develop his craft and reputation. "I loved her on first meeting," Sendak remembered in The Art of Maurice Sendak. "My happiest memories, in fact, are of my earliest career, when Ursula was my confidante and best friend. She really became my home and the person I trusted most." Nordstrom arranged for Sendak to be the illustrator for Ruth Krauss's A Hole Is to Dig, the book that first established Sendak as an important illustrator. A Hole Is to Dig was such a popular and critical success that Sendak was able to quit his job at F.A.O. Schwartz and work as a freelancer.
During the 1950s Sendak learned how to be flexible and adapt his drawings to the texts they accompanied. Many illustrators of that time period were not able to do so, the artist told Heller: "That's what doomed a lot of the illustrators working then. And that was the one thing Ursula was absolutely not going to let happen to me…. I was going to learn how to draw in a variety of styles. I think my books are identifiable, but they all look different because illustrators are secondary to the text. If you insist on being primary to the text, then you're a bad illustrator." Sendak's illustrations have thus varied from the line drawings of Kenny's Window and Where the Wild Things Are to the cartoonish style of In the Night Kitchen to the highly detailed, cross-hatching style found in Outside over There and his drawings for the books by the Brothers Grimm.
To make ends meet, the artist illustrated as many books as he could, so at first he did not have much time to do any of his own writing. Nordstrom, who had done so much for his career as an illustrator, also later encouraged Sendak to write his own children's books. His first two efforts, Kenny's Window and Very Far Away, did not satisfy the artist completely. He later called Kenny's Window "overwritten" and "not well illustrated;" and although Sendak liked the story in Very Far Away, he eventually considered reillustrating the book. With The Sign on Rosie's Door, however, the artist created his first memorable character. Rosie is based on a real girl whom Sendak remembers from his Brooklyn childhood. The book draws from the sketches he once made of Rosie and her friends in 1948 and 1949, and the story line uses some actual events and quotes the real Rosie directly in some cases. The fictional Rosie became the model for the typical Sendak character: strong-willed, honest, and—above all—imaginative.
"Rosie personifies Sendak's ability to empathize with the triumphs and terrors of childhood," observed John Lahr in New York Times. The Sign on Rosie's Door is a simple story about a group of children with nothing to do on a long summer day in the city. Rosie, a somewhat bossy, but friendly and highly imaginative ten-year-old girl, shows her friends how to use fantasy to chase away their boredom. Later, Rosie became a television star when Sendak wrote, directed, and composed lyrics for a half-hour animated special that aired in 1975; and this led in turn to the artist's first venture into live theater when he designed the sets and wrote lyrics for a stage version produced in 1980.
Sendak's next work, The Nutshell Library, features some of the characters from The Sign on Rosie's Door. Comprised of an alphabet book, a counting book, a book about the seasons, and a cautionary tale—all measuring only two-and-one-half by four inches—The Nutshell Library books have been highly praised for Sendak's skill "at integrating text, design, and illustrations," according to Cotham. Today, they are still considered by many critics to be one of the artist's most successful efforts.
After illustrating several picture books for other authors, Sendak decided to write some picture books himself as a way of controlling the wordiness he felt prevented him from expressing what he wanted to say in his illustrated books. "I finally came to grips with what my theme was and found the form most suitable to me as a writer and illustrator," he said in Heller's book. Picture books differ from illustrated books in that they consist mostly of illustrations accompanied by only short passages of text, while illustrated books are mostly text with only a few illustrations. During the following years, Sendak composed three picture books that he considers to form a loose trilogy: Where the Wild Things Are, In the Night Kitchen, and Outside Over There. Although the three stories seem unrelated, the artist said in The Art of Maurice Sendak that they "are all varia-tions on the same theme: how children master various feelings—anger, boredom, fear, frustration, jealousy—and manage to come to grips with the realities of their lives."
One common aspect of these books is that they all involve the main character's voyaging into some type of fantasy world. In Where the Wild Things Are Max has an argument with his mother and is sent to his room without supper. He deals with his anger by imagining himself sailing to an island ruled by enormous, frightening monsters and becoming their king. However, Max soon becomes lonesome for his family and decides to return home. The fantasy world of In the Night Kitchen is a place that looks like a New York City skyline except that the buildings are made up of 1930s-era food boxes, bottles, and kitchen utensils. Here, bakers who all resemble the comedian Oliver Hardy work all night making goodies. When Mickey—who is named after Mickey Mouse—finds himself in the Night Kitchen he saves the day by finding milk for the bakers' cake. Outside Over There, which was marketed as both a children's and adult book, has a much more serious tone than In the Night Kitchen. It tells how Ida, who is very jealous of her baby brother, neglects him, until one day goblins kidnap the baby and take him to another world "outside over there." By traveling to this other world Ida reaffirms her love for her brother and manages to rescue him from the goblins.
Just as Sendak's characters resolve any crises they might have by traveling to a world of imagination, Sendak himself uses his imagination in some of these books as a means of releasing some of his own private conflicts. Depending on the book, this is true to a greater or lesser extent. For example, the monsters in Where the Wild Things Are were inspired by the artist's hated Brooklyn relatives. "I wanted the wild things to be frightening," Sendak remarked in The Art of Maurice Sendak. "But why? It was probably at this point that I remembered how I detested my Brooklyn relatives as a small child…. [They'd] lean way over with their bad teeth and hairy noses, and say something threatening like 'You're so cute I could eat you up.' And I knew if my mother didn't hurry up with the cooking, they probably would."
The events that preceded the writing of In the Night Kitchen had an even greater role in the creation of that book. In 1967 Sendak suffered a heart attack, lost his mother and beloved Sealyham terrier, Jennie, to cancer, and, two years later, his father also died. After these tragic events, the artist left New York City and moved to Connecticut. In the Night Kitchen was a way for Sendak "to do a book that would say goodbye to New York," he told Martha Shirk in a Chicago Tribune article, "and say goodbye to my parents, and tell a little bit about the narrow squeak I had just been through." In the story, Mickey's brush with death when he is nearly baked in a cake symbolizes Sendak's own close call. In the Night Kitchen, the artist concluded in a New York Times article by Lisa Hammel, is about his "victory over death."
Although In the Night Kitchen is an important book to Sendak, he has called Outside over There his most personal work. "The book is obviously related to my own babyhood when my sister, Natalie, Ida's age, took care of me," he revealed to Jean F. Mercier in Publishers Weekly. The tale has its roots in the real-life story of the kidnapping of famous American pilot Charles Lindbergh's baby in 1932. Sendak recalled in his New York Times Book Review article how at the time he was "[four] years old, sick in bed and somehow confusing myself with this baby. I had the superstitious feeling that if he came back I'd be O.K., too. Sadly, we all know the baby didn't come back. It left a peculiar mark in my mind." Outside over There "is really a homage to my sister, who is Ida," the artist later added. Sendak has never directly revealed the deep personal turmoils that his books at times express, but whatever they are Outside over There has been the most therapeutic work for him. "I think it's the best thing I've done in my life," he once admitted. "It's the book I've searched for and scratched for…. What I got was as close to the realization of vision as I've ever experienced in my creative life…. It's a personal salvation and recovery of vision," he later added.
Because of the personal value of Outside over There to Sendak the relatively smaller sales of the book have not been a great concern to him. The problems that some of his other books have caused him have been much more troubling. Sendak first became a controversial figure with the publication of Where the Wild Things Are. Many critics and educators complained that the monsters were too frightening for small children. Critics like Bruno Bettelheim even felt that the book could cause psychological damage to sensitive children. In a Ladies' Home Journal piece he wrote that Sendak "failed to understand … the incredible fear it evokes in the child to be sent to bed without supper, and this by the first and foremost giver of food and security—his mother." Sendak responded to this criticism in Mark I. West's Trust Your Children: Writers against Censorship in Children's Literature by pointing out that Bettelheim had not even read the book. "He simply based his judgment on someone else's summary of it. Because of his article, all sorts of people said that the book was psychologically harmful to children. This hurt the book, and it hurt me. Since then Bettelheim has come full circle, but the damage had already been done."
A number of other books by Sendak have been criticized and even censored for various reasons. In the Night Kitchen was attacked by some reviewers because of its use of cartoon-style illustrations. Some people "dismiss comic books as vulgar trash," observed Sendak. But most of the objections have been aimed at the illustration in the book that shows Mickey completely nude from the front. Many librarians defaced the book by drawing diapers or underwear on Mickey to hide his genitals. "It's as if my book contains secret information that kids would be better off not knowing. This whole idea, of course, is ridiculous," said Sendak, pointing out that children are naturally open about their bodies until adults teach them to be ashamed of them. Another censored book by Sendak is Some Swell Pup; or, Are You Sure You Want a Dog?, a realistic guide to taking care of puppies, which was flagged because of an illustration showing a dog defecating. According to Sendak in a New York Times article by Bernard Holland, censoring books that portray some of the facts of life to children is more for the benefit of the adult than the child: "Children are willing to expose themselves to experiences. We aren't. Grown-ups always say they protect their children, but they're really protecting themselves. Besides, you can't protect children. They know everything."
After moving to Connecticut, Sendak found peace and quiet by living in virtual isolation during much of the 1970s. Here, in a ten-room stone and clapboard house a few miles outside of Ridgefield, he worked ten to eleven hours a day in a room he converted into a studio. Many of the books he worked on at this time were picture books for other authors, as well as his own Outside over There. Sendak felt that with this book he had gone about as far as he could go with picture books and he needed to move on to something else. In 1980, after "years spent on picture books, Sendak was ready to get out of his 'solitary confinement' and do his first opera project," noted Theatre Crafts contributor Ellen Levene.
After designing the sets and costumes for Mozart's The Magic Flute, Sendak then worked on the designs for such operas as The Cunning Little Vixen and The Love of Three Oranges, as well as the stage and film versions of The Nutcracker. He also wrote the lyrics and did designs for his own Where the Wild Things Are (also adapted as a ballet in 1997) and wrote a libretto for Higglety, Pigglety, Pop! As a classical music fan since his boyhood, Sendak had always wanted to get closer to the works of the masters, especially Mozart. Often, while writing and illustrating his books he would listen to Mozart for inspiration, and he has consequently memorized many of Mozart's compositions. The image of Mozart has even entered into some of Sendak's illustrations, but this was never enough for the artist. "That is why the operas are so important," Sendak explained, "because by costuming and setting them I have come as close to the music as I ever have in my life. I'm now literally on the stage, and I'm coloring Mozart, illustrating him in the way I used to illustrate people's stories."
Sendak wanted to do more with his work in the opera than repeat what others had done before him. Discussing his stage version of Where the Wild Things Are with Horn Book interviewer David E. White, the artist observed: "There are too many operas called children's operas. Most of them suffer for this very reason. They are written down to children, as though children could not appreciate the full weight of good musical quality. So I want Wild Things to be an opera which is comical and quite serious, a work that will satisfy adults as well as children." The same is true of the previously produced operas and ballet with which Sendak has been involved. For example, when Sendak was asked to help with a new production of The Nutcracker he refused because he did not like the almost plotless story that had been used in earlier performances. However, he accepted the job when his own version of the stage drama was accepted. It was truer to the original book by E.T.A. Hoffman, which centers on the sexual and emotional coming-of-age of a young girl.
In order to have more freedom in the type of work he wanted to do for the theater, Sendak cofounded—with fellow writer Arthur Yorinks—a national theater for children in 1990 that he named The Night Kitchen. As the artistic director of the theater, he hoped to produce new versions of such plays as Peter Pan and Hansel and Gretel that will not talk down to children. "Our work is very peculiar, idiosyncratic …," Sendak told New York Times contributor Eleanor Blau. "I don't believe in things literally for children. That's a reduction." Believing that children and adults should be treated with equal respect, he later added: "Children are more open in their hearts … for what you're doing…. They're the best audience in town."
Following a hiatus of several years from writing and illustrating children's books, Sendak became inspired to return to this activity through his collaboration with editors Iona and Peter Opie on a compilation of children's verses titled I Saw Esau: The Schoolchild's Pocket Book. Reviewers emphasized the significance of the collection for adults interested in folklore, children's literature, and illustration, as the book compiles a variety of poems and songs originating from contemporary American and British children at play, most of which would not be sanctioned by adults. Commentators remarked on the uniqueness of Sendak's illustrations, which often help to explicate the otherwise opaque meanings of certain verses. New York Times Book Review critic Alison Lurie, for example, found Sendak's drawings "as entrancing—and sometimes as shocking—as the text."
Sendak also received praise for his illustrated edition of a relatively unpopular book by Herman Melville, Pierre. Jed Perl asserted in New Republic that the "stylized histrionics of Sendak's illustrations underline the fascination of this psychological fable of deluded innocence and suicidal experience. Sendak embraces the book's dark, loopy mood and makes it his own." Perl emphasized in particular Sendak's successful decision to eschew historical accuracy in his rendering of characters in favor of a more whimsical, expressive style that reflects the diverse moods and themes of Melville's text.
Demonstrating the full impact of Sendak's realistic approach to children's literature, the picture book We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy combines two cryptic and little-known Mother Goose verses with scenes depicting homelessness and poverty among children. Sendak explained that the inspiration for the story came from his research into the communities of abandoned and runaway children that surround many cities. He subsequently decided to set We Are All in the Dumps in a cardboard shanty town located beneath the Brooklyn Bridge that is inhabited by children. The format of the book reveals the influence of Sendak's extensive experience in the theater: "The Mother Goose lines, set at the top of the spreads, read like supertitles, while a shallow visual plane recalls a stage set, and the characters, issuing their lines in dialogue balloons, seem more like actors," commented Elizabeth Devereaux in Publishers Weekly. While Brian Alderson cautioned in New York Times Book Review against forcing children to view the "pain and deprivation" that are the subject of We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy, Wilson Library Bulletin reviewer Judith Rovenger lauded the courage of Sendak's social commentary regarding America's underclass and the power of the book's visual imagery. "This is a picture book that makes demands," she commented. "It is provocative and disturbing; it is not a book to cuddle with."
His later years have seen no slowdown in interest in Sendak. Between 2000 and 2001, corresponding with the fiftieth anniversary of his first book for Harper, the artist's longtime publisher reissued some twenty-two of his books. "We went through all that was buried and decided what was worth unburying," Sendak told Sally Lodge of Publishers Weekly. "A lot of the books I love, and some, quite frankly, I wrote to earn money. We decided what were the best books from any given period and discarded others." Among the titles slated to reach a new generation of readers include perennial bestsellers such as Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen; they join such volumes as A Very Special House, Charlotte and the White Horse, and Open House for Butterflies. As Sendak admitted, he was most pleased with the reissue of a 1954 Ruth Krauss collaboration, I'll Be You and You Be Me, which he described to Lodge as "Ruth at her sweetest, most optimistic and imaginative."
Sendak's original publications in the late 1990s include two books designed to appeal to audiences of all ages. The hero of The Miami Giant is an explorer, Giaweeni, who leaves Italy to sail for China but lands instead in Florida, where he encounters the natives—Jewish retirees of Miami Beach "in all their primitive splendor," as Hazel Rochman described it in Booklist. In 1999 Sendak illustrated the whimsical parody Swine Lake. The very image of a hungry wolf infiltrating a porcine ballet (at the New Hamsterdam Theater) with designs on devouring the cast caught the delighted attention of some critics. "Just a look at the dust jacket and you know you're in for fun," declared Ilene Cooper of Booklist. Sendak's "irrepressible art makes the most of [James] Marshall's understated text," remarked a Publishers Weekly critic, who pointed to such hidden pleasures as "an obviously bored, sailor-suit-clad young pig in the audience who sticks his tongue out at readers."
In addition, a new series of "Little Bear" books, based on characters created by author Else Minarik and illustrated by Sendak in the 1950s and 1960s was created by Sendak and published to coincide with a "Little Bear" animated television series, which was first produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in 1995, and broadcast later on the Nickelodeon cable channel in the United States.
Sendak has never had children of his own or been married, but he maintained that having contact with children is not necessary for him to write tales that young audiences can appreciate. What is important is what he called the "peculiar relationship with myself that allows me to dip endlessly into feelings which are not available to most people." By maintaining contact with the child within him, Sendak can easily relate to children while also touching on subjects and feelings that can stir recognition in adults. "We've all passed the same places," said the artist. "Only I remember the geography, and most people forget it."
The connection with the imagination and fantasy of childhood has always been Sendak's primary motivation in all that he has done. "The writing and the picture-making are merely a means to an end," he said in Down the Rabbit Hole. He then remarked, "It has never been for me a graphic matter—or even, for that matter, a word matter! To discuss a children's book in terms of its pictorial beauty—or prose style—is not to the point. It is the particular nugget of magic it achieves—if it achieves. It has always only been a means—a handle with which I can swing myself into—somewhere or other—the place I'd rather be."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
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Write News, http://writenews.com/ (December 7, 2001), "Maurice Sendak Creates New 'Little Bear' Story."
Maurice Sendak (film), Weston Woods, 1986.