Wild Things everywhere should raise a mournful howl. Following complications from a recent stroke, Maurice Sendak, author and illustrator of many a classic children’s tale, died today – Tuesday, May 8th – at the age of 83. The author of a collective childhood favorite for generations, 1963's Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak brought whimsy and a sense of dark humor to his work, writing stories of ferocious beasts and precocious children. First published in 1947, Sendak went on to create dozens of creatures, characters and stories that have become immortalized by readers of all ages and conceptualized in various other books, movies and exhibits.
In this same medium of stylized fancy, Louisvillians were recently treated to a colorful exhibition of Sendak’s life and work at the Louisville Free Public Library’s Main branch this past winter. The exhibit, In a Nutshell: The Worlds of Maurice Sendak, focused on Sendak’s personal roots as a Polish and Jewish American and the influence of his own family heritage in his creativity. Fans of Sendak’s work are more than familiar with the often dark and mature themes present in his stories – tales often filled with alarming creatures and even subtle commentary concerning issues of loss, war and persecution – ideas Sendak defended shamelessly and gruffly.
No stranger to controversy, Sendak was unfazed by critics of his grim aesthetic and black humor, dismissing those who found his subject matter frightful and dark for young eyes. “I don’t write for children,” Sendak stated on a recent episode of the Colbert Report, “I like them as few and far between as I do adults.” While perhaps lacking a certain sense of the warm fuzzies, both Sendak and his work made an indelible impression on countless young readers for decades, fueling an affinity for Wild Rumpuses that spans generations.
Take a moment sometime this day and cast a glance towards the farthest corner of your childhood bookshelf; a memorial reading of In the Night Kitchen or, of course, Where the Wild Things Are seems only fitting as the master of childhood monsters sails away in his own private boat.
Maurice Bernard Sendak: June 10, 1928 – May 8th, 2012
Photo: Courtesy of Entertainment Weekly website