Farewell to King of the Wild Things

Famed childrens author Maurice Sendak dies from stroke at 83

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) He brought "wild things" into the world's imagination and revolutionized children's literature. Now Maurice Sendak has gone off to where the imagination can truly run wild.

Famous for both his edgy bluntness and his fanciful books, Sendak died at age 83 of complications from a stroke today, according to his editor Michael di Capua.

Until 1963, children's books were cute and proper - and the little children always followed the rules and obeyed their parents.

With the arrival of Where the Wild Things Are, published that year by Harper & Row, that all changed.

The story of the little boy who became king of the wild things after he disobeyed his parents and sailed off to an imaginary world was controversial when it came out and has been censored countless times, but it also opened the floodgates for a new type era of children's literature.

Kids' books went from being simple and light-hearted to being more complex, darker, more uncertain - yet also more fun, more honest.

The worlds Sendak created were ones that not only captivated children but also helped them understand their world, said Arlington, Texas, elementary school teacher Chrystena Talamantez, who read Where the Wild Things Are to her second graders.

"Kids love the story because they can easily relate to Max and his imagination," Talamantez said. "It is also a great piece of children's literature to use that spark childrens' imagination when writing short stories."

Sendak's interviews showed off his biting sense of humor, such as when he told an NPR interviewer that he didn't write for children. He simply wrote - and someone else said it was for children.

He said his inspiration for the monsters of Where the Wild Things Are was drawn from his aunts and uncles, with their bloodshot eyes and big noses.

The darkness that ran through his books came from a "terrible" childhood, as Sendak often described it, because his extended family died in the Holocaust during World War II.

Death and mortality were therefore early lessons, and those early experiences informed the way he portrayed childhood in his illustrations and books.

Sendak was inspired to become an illustrator after watching the Disney film Fantasia when he was 12 years old, and one of his early jobs was designing the window displays for the New York toy store F.A.O. Schwarz.

Where the Wild Things Are, which won the 1964 Caldecott Medal, the highest award in children's illustration, was not Sendak's first book, but it rocked the world of children's literature when it hit the scene and has been challenged in school districts across the country.

Following its publication, Sendak continued to challenge the status quo of children's literature and explore the darker side of childhood in books like In the Night Kitchen, Seven Little Monsters and Outside Over There.

Sendak's original manuscripts, illustrations and other works are kept at the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia, Penn.

His long-time partner, child psychoanalyst Dr. Eugene Glynn, died in 2007. He has no other immediate family members.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 7, 2012
Last Updated:
May 8, 2012