Norman Rockwell Museum is saddened to learn about the loss of acclaimed children’s book illustrator/author Maurice Sendak, who died on Tuesday, May 8, at age 83.
Children of all ages grew up reading Sendak’s highly imaginative picture books, which included: The Sign on Rosie’s Door (1960); Chicken Soup with Rice (A Book of Months) (1962); Higglety Pigglety Pop! or There Must Be More to Life (1967); In the Night Kitchen (1970); Outside Over There (1981); We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy (1993); and Bumble-Ardy (2011).
Perhaps his best-known and beloved book, Where The Wild Things Are was published in 1963; the book told the story of young Max, clad in his mischievous wolf suit, who is sent to his room without any supper for being unruly and not minding his mother. Enraged, he conjures up a grand trip of sailing off to the land of The Wild Things, a peculiar group of monsters, who first threaten to eat him and then hail him as their king: “Let the wild rumpus begin!” After settling in with the monsters, he soon becomes homesick for his family. The jungle is transformed back into his room, and young Max finds his dinner…still hot.
Sendak did not shy away from taking his young readers on a darker journey than most children’s books of the day. Friend and fellow author Gregory Maguire paid tribute to the artist’s great insight into young readers in his 2009 book, Making Mischief: A Maurice Sendak Appreciation: “What Sendak has contributed, before, during, and since the wild things, is a child’s grammar of narrative and image sturdy enough to convey the anxiety and adventure, the danger and potential reward of the mortal world−a grammar that can be deciphered by a child too young to read.”
Maurice Sendak took great pride in being an illustrator. In an archived interview with writer Dan McCue, Sendak had this to say about the field: “I think there have been more great illustrators – and I say this cautiously – than there have been fine art painters in America, with somebody like Winslow Homer being one of the rare examples of someone having bridged both…”
“There are commercial illustrators,” Sendak said. “I would say even Norman Rockwell was, but even that is not a negative. He made his living from it and, whether you like him or not, technically he was superb. I’m not that kind of illustrator, but I also make my living from it. And I dare say painters, could they, would like to make their living from it, too.”
The above clip is courtesy of the Rosenbach Museum & Library in Philadelphia. The author of over 100 books, Sendak chose the Rosenbach to be the permanent home of his work in the early 1970s. The Rosenbach’s Sendak collection is the largest in the world, with over 10,000 preliminary sketches, final drawings, manuscripts, books, and ephemera. Starting on June 10, what would have been the artist’s 84th birthday, the Rosenbach will present a year-long commemoration of his work, paying tribute to artist’s remarkable 65-year career.
To quote the Wild Things calling out to young Max: “‘Oh please don’t go — we’ll eat you up — we love you so.’ ” Maurice Sendak will be dearly missed, but his beautifully illustrated books will be with us forever.
“Maurice Sendak, 1928-2012,” The Rosenbach Museum & Library
“Maurice Sendak, Author of Splendid Nightmares, Dies,” The New York Times, May 8, 2012