Photo by John Dugdale, from the HarperCollins website
Yesterday, the world lost a groundbreaking author/illustrator — and children everywhere lost a hero and champion. At the age of 83, the legendary Maurice Sendak passed away after complications of a recent stroke.
I imagine Mr. Sendak setting sail for a faraway island where a group of hairy, horned, and hooting/hollering creatures await his arrival. That’s because, of course, I associated Sendak most with his famous picture book Where the Wild Things Are.
But Sendak also published a lot of other well-loved stories, including In the Night Kitchen; Chicken Soup with Rice; and a childhood favorite of mine, Higglety Pigglety Pop. You may also know him as the illustrator of Else Holmelund Minarik’s Little Bear books — some of which I still have on the shelf in the bedroom where I grew up (my parents are NOT allowed to get rid of any of my old books, no way no how).
Despite his great achievements as a children’s book creator, the funny thing is that Sendak never considered himself as such. Recently he explained, “I don’t write for children. I write, and somebody says, ‘That’s for children.'”
But for someone who didn’t tailor his work specifically to kids, it seems that Sendak certainly understood — and applauded, respected, and celebrated — them. After all, this was a man who said, “…what none of us seem to realize is how smart kids are.” And also: “Children are tough, though we tend to think of them as fragile. They have to be tough. Childhood is not easy. We sentimentalize children, but they know what’s real and what’s not.”
Maybe Sendak felt that way because he himself had a rough childhood. He was often ill, he lost many relatives in the Holocaust, and he didn’t really feel accepted by the world at large. Perhaps that’s why so many of his books have a dark edge, a determination not to show the universe as all sunny and smiley and shiny all the time.
As Sendak put it, “I didn’t set out to make children happy or make life better for them or easier for them.” And yet, through his books, I think he kind of did, don’t you?
Fare thee well, Maurice Sendak. Normally, I would say “Rest In Peace” in a situation like this… but in this case, I hope you’re enjoying a wild and decidedly un-peaceful rumpus somewhere!
Karen recalls reading aloud from Chicken Soup with Rice when she was a kid. Even back then, she loved anything related to food! Or maybe it was because the book was so good…
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