Maurice Sendak died this morning in Danbury, Connecticut of complications from a recent stroke. Sendak was 83.
Sendak will be remembered as the best children’s author of the 20th century, having written and illustrated basically most of your childhoods: “In the Night Kitchen,” “Outside Over There,” “Where the Wild Things Are,” “The Sign on Rosie’s Door,” “Higglety Pigglety Pop!” and “The Nutshell Library.” He was awarded the “Caldecott Medal” for Where the Wild Things Are, a book that was transformed into a lovely, but dark and achy and terrifying children’s film by Spike Jonze a few years ago.
I didn’t grow up with Maurice Sendak (or children’s books of any kind). In fact, until I had my own children, I’d never heard of Sendak, so it’s only recently that I got to experience the joy and thrill and wildness of his work. For several weeks after I began reading Sendak’s books to my son, I was so excited about him that I’d meet other parents and gush as though I’d discovered a hidden talent, “Have you read Where the Wild Things Are or In the Night Kitchen? They’re amazing. You should check out Maurice Sendak. He’s phenomenal.” I think most parents thought I was being ironic or something, and not just a complete dip.
But the effect that Sendak’s words and illustrations have had on my kid, on others, and probably most of you cannot be stressed enough. He was a magical author, and late in life, an adorable old curmudgeon.
Here’s a few of Sendack’s personal gems:
“People say, ‘Oh, Mr. Sendak. I wish I were in touch with my childhood self, like you!’ As if it were all quaint and succulent, like Peter Pan. Childhood is cannibals and psychotic vomiting in your mouth! I say, ‘You are in touch, lady—you’re mean to your kids, you treat your husband like shit, you lie, you’re selfish… That is your childhood self!”
“But Newt Gingrich is an idiot. … There is something so hopelessly gross and vile about him that it’s hard to take him seriously. So let’s not take him seriously.”
Once a little boy sent me a charming card with a little drawing on it. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters — sometimes very hastily — but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, “Dear Jim: I loved your card.” Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, “Jim loved your card so much he ate it.” That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.”
“I cry a lot because I miss people. They die and I can’t stop them. They leave me and I love them more.”
“Quit this life as soon as possible.”
RIP Maurice Sendak. Thank you for helping to make parenting such a joy. Let the wild rumpus begin where ever you are.