Maurice Sendak was born on June 10, 1928, in Brooklyn. His parents were poor Polish immigrants who came to the US before World War I. Many of their relatives in Poland died in the Holocaust during World War II. Maurice was the youngest of three, and was sick a lot as a kid. His mother worried constantly about his health and safety. Most of his books have a scene with a moon peering down - this is his symbol for his mom watching over him.
Maurice was born into a family of storytellers. His father disliked reading other people's stories and preferring to make up his own. "My father told stories that would now be deemed inappropriate for children. My brother wrote weird stories and my sister bound the weird stories into beautiful books which we sold on the streets."
He knew he wanted to be a writer and illustrator before he even went to school. "I set my goal at the age of four or five and happily reached it." After school he worked for a comics company, drawing backgrounds for Mutt and Jeff, and he illustrated his first book in high school, for his biology teacher, called Atomics for the Millions.
After graduating the Art Students League, he worked briefly in window display for F.A.O. Schwarz - meaning, he created insane illustrations on the windows which made curious people come inside. He landed his first book deal when Ursula Nordstrom, then an editor at Harper and Brothers, came in to ask who had made these wonderful drawings, and would he like to illustrate a book instead? He began illustrating children's books, and calls this "the happiest time of my life." His career started fast and has never slowed down.
He has collaborated on dozens of projects with authors Jack Sendak (his brother), Meindert deJong and Ruth Krauss. "Working with Ruth Krauss has been an inspiration. I learned more than how to illustrate a book - I learned the meaning of the book, the sense of the book, how text and pictures work with each other and not against."
After years of illustrating others' work, he finally wrote and illustrated his own book, Kenny's Window, in the 50s. Since then he has written and/or illustrated over eighty books for kids.
He has never been afraid of controversy, though it often surprises him. After the 1970 publication of In the Night Kitchen, about a boy named Mickey who falls out of bed into a vat of cake batter, he was amazed at the public fuss made over the naked Mickey's tiny little penis. Some librarians were known to draw diapers on the illustrations.
He has written about homelessness, AIDS, and starvation. The ending of one Sendak story seemed too sad to some adult readers, and some parents solved the "problem" by gluing together the last two pages of the book. "The people who are frightened by my images and stories are adults, not children. It is grown-ups who are scared to death of death, it's grown-ups who banish unpleasant thoughts to the back of their minds."
When Maurice was little, every Sunday afternoon the Sendaks' "hideous, beastly relatives" would come over for dinner. "They would lean over you with their foul breath and squeeze you and pinch you, and their eyes are blood-stained and their teeth are big and yellow. Ahh! It was horrible, horrible."
These horrible relatives would later become the Wild Things. "At first," says Sendak, "the book was to be called 'Where the Wild Horses Are,' but when it became apparent to my editor I could not draw horses, she kindly changed the title to 'Wild Things,' with the idea that I could at the very least draw a 'thing!' So I drew my relatives. They're all dead now, so I can tell people."
Where the Wild Things Are is among the top ten best-selling children's books of all time. When it was published in 1963, it instantly made him the most recognizable illustrator in the country. Its French title is Max Et Les Maximonstres. And, maybe this is cheesy, but The Library Journal reports that a little girl, who had never spoken and had essentially withdrawn from the world around her, spoke her first sentence after a teacher read her Where the Wild Things Are. The sentence was: "Can I have that book?"
In the past twenty years, Maurice has designed sets and costumes for numerous operas, such as Mozart's Magic Flute, Prokofiev's The Love for Three Oranges, and Leo Janacek's The Cunning Little Vixen. When he appears in public, which is rare, he enjoys speaking about his lifetime passions: opera, Herman Melville, and Mozart.
Please vist www.alibris.com/subjects/childrens/feature-author.cfm for a stunning photo of Maurice. He can't be older than 25, and he's not smiling or even looking at the camera, and he's holding a puppy, and he is beautiful.
Editor's Note: Maurice Sendak died on May 8, 2012 following a stroke.
(If this is too many quotes for your taste, I apologize, but just look at how wonderful this man is.)
(on his father) "He was an incredible storyteller. He told stories to put us to sleep at night, my brother and sister and me. Which was wonderful, although - unwittingly, of course - he did turn me into an insomniac, because some of his stories were so hair-raising. And he didn't edit."
(on children vs. adults) "I find children on the whole more direct and honest, but being a child doesn't automatically make you superior. Although usually it does."
"The first real book I ever owned was The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain, which my sister bought me. And I flipped when she did. I still have it - that poor, abused book. I smelled it, I squeezed it, I tried to bite into it. I couldn't believe that I had such a book, that I owned such a rare thing. Beautiful red cloth, a shiny picture pasted on the binding, and beautiful end-papers. It stood on my dresser, it came to bed with me, I stroked it. I didn't actually read it until many years later. And I like The Prince and the Pauper, but first and foremost was the joy of the object itself . . . kids get pleasure out of everything - milk cartons, cereal boxes - and a book that feels good is like a toy, it's like a teddy bear. You hug it, you squeeze it, you take it to bed. Then it has the added magnificence of being readable."
(on Herman Melville) "He's the most luminous, Shakespeare-drunk writer who ever lived."
(on Disney's The Little Mermaid) "a vapid film about getting married, having cupcakes for bras and going to live in White Plains, New York, forever and ever." "It's 1993 and children get shot on the way to school, children contract AIDS, children are in the most vulnerable position imaginable . . . If we don't look, and if we don't listen, and if we don't do something, kids will be lost."
"When my father read to me, I leaned into him so I became part of his chest or his forearm. And I think children who are hugged, and children who are held on laps - nice yummy laps - will always associate reading with the bodies of their parents, the smells of their parents. And that will always keep you a reader. Because that perfume, that sensuous connection is lifelong. We're only animals. And you watch puppies needing to be licked to survive. Well, we need to be licked to survive. And reading becomes a licking, if you will. When you not only hear a treasured story, but also are pressed against the most important person in the world, a connection is made that cannot be severed."
(Maurice illustrated some of these, and wrote some, and did both to some.)
Alligators All Around: An Alphabet
Along Came a Dog
The Animal Family
The Art of Maurice Sendak
Charlotte and the White Horse
Chicken Soup With Rice: A Book of Months
Dear Mili: An Old Tale
The Eventful History of Three Blind Mice
Father Bear Comes Home
Fly by Night
Frank and Joey Eat Lunch
George and Martha: The Complete Stories of Two Best Friends
The Golden Key
Hans Christian Andersen: the Complete Fairy Tales and Stories
Hector Protector and As I Went Over the Water: Two Nursery Rhymes
Higglety Pigglety Pop: Or, There Must Be More to Life
A Hole Is to Dig: A First Book of First Definitions
The House of Sixty Fathers
How Little Lori Visited Times Square
Hurry Home, Candy
I Saw Esau: The Schoolchild's Pocket Book
I Want to Paint My Bathroom Blue
I'll Be You and You Be Me
In the Night Kitchen
The Jester Has Lost His Jingle
The Juniper Tree and Other Tales from Grimm
A Kiss for Little Bear
Let's Be Enemies
The Light Princess
Little Bear's Friend
Little Bear's Visit
Love for Three Oranges: The Glyndebourne Version
Maurice Sendak's Christmas Mystery/Full-Color Book of Clues and Jigsaw Puzzle
The Miami Giant
The Moon Jumpers
Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Farm
No Fighting, No Biting
One Was Johnny: A Counting Book
Open House for Butterflies
Outside over There
The Owl and the Pussycat
Penthesilea: A Tragic Drama
Pierre: A Cautionary Tale in Five Chapters and a Prologue
The Secret Art of Dr. Seuss
Sendak in Asia: Exhibition and Sale of Original Artwork
Seven Little Monsters
She Loves Me ... She Loves Me Not
The Sign on Rosie's Door
Some Swell Pup: Or, Are You Sure You Want a Dog?
Somebody Else's Nut Tree and Other Tales from Children
Theatre for Young Audiences: 20 Great Plays for Children
The Tin Fiddle
Very Far Away
A Very Special House
We Are All in the Dumps With Jack and Guy
What Can You Do With a Shoe?
What Do You Do, Dear?: Proper Conduct for All Occasions
What Do You Say, Dear?
The Wheel on the School
Where the Wild Things Are
The Wonderful Farm
Zlateh the Goat