Remembering Maurice Sendak, Author of ‘Where the Wild Things Are’

Where the Wild Things Are - Maurice SendakSince its first release in 1963 by Harper & Row, Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are” has continuously appeared on “best books for kids” lists from the past few decades.  (In fact, his book was featured on several Parents book lists, including Best Books for Toddlers, The All-Time Best Books for Preschoolers, and Best Bedtime Books.)  The famous author and illustrator, who also made headlines in January for a hilarious 2-part interview on “The Colbert Report,” passed away on Tuesday from stroke complications.  He was 83 years old.

Parents have often been divided about Sendak’s most famous book, which won a Caldecott Medal in 1964 and became a live-action film directed by Spike Jonze in 2009.  Some have been charmed by the tale of a boy (Max) in a white fur suit who asserts his independence by sailing off, having adventures, and taming the wild things of a faraway kingdom.  Other parents have been less charmed by the book, finding it a bewildering tale of a boy who behaves badly and then is rewarded by becoming king of the wild things, a legion of gigantic and scary monsters with fangs and claws.  It is also a tale without a traditional narrative and it ends on an ambiguous (though vaguely happy) note.

Even though Sendak was best known for this one book, he also wrote and illustrated other unusual books such as the controversial ”In the Night Kitchen” (a naked boy dream-falls into a baker’s kitchen), “Outside Over There” (a young girl rescues her sister from goblins), and “Bumble-Ardy” (published recently in September 2011, about an orphaned pig who throws himself a birthday party). A new book of an illustrated poem, “My Brother’s Book,” will also be published posthumously in Feburary 2013.

While he also wrote some light-hearted stories such as “Chicken Soup with Rice” (a rhyming tale about a boy who eats a year’s worth of soup), his stories often had a slightly sinister edge and depicted darkness alongside innocence and fantasy.  There’s no doubt that Sendak was a legend and a one-of-a-kind storyteller who was willing to embrace and reveal an imperfect side of children’s personalities (his famous book starts with Max having a temper tantrum), and about our continual struggle to tame the beast within all of us — and come out of the other side a little more world-weary but wiser and more imaginative.

“And he sailed back over a year
and in and out of weeks
and through a day
and into the night of his very own room
where he found his supper waiting for him
and it was still hot.” (“Where the Wild Things Are”)

We’ll miss your unique storytelling, Maurice Sendak.

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