For those who haven’t already heard the news, author/illustrator Maurice Sendak passed away yesterday. He was 83. Most people know of his work from his most famous 1963 book Where the Wild Things Are, which won the Caldecott in 1964. It was later turned into an animated and live-action movie and an opera. The initial reaction to his book was not as good as people who think, especially in light of how popular and well-loved the book is now. According to this LA Times article, “the book was a startling departure from the sweetness and innocence that then ruled children’s literature. ‘Wild Things’ tapped into the fears of childhood and sent its main character — an unruly boy in a wolf costume — into a menacing forest to tame the wild beasts of his imagination. Librarians banned the book as too frightening. Psychologists and many adults condemned it for being too grim.” Sendak based the Wild Things on his relatives, according to the New York Times, “who, in his memory at least, had hovered like a pack of middle-aged gargoyles above the childhood sickbed to which he was often confined.”
This book was however not the only of his books to be banned. One of my favorite of his books, In the Night Kitchen, was banned because of the nudity of Mickey, the main character. The book, according to the preceeding NY Times article was ” a tribute to the New York of Mr. Sendak’s childhood, recalling the 1930s films and comic books he adored all his life. (The three bakers who toil in the night kitchen are the spit and image of Oliver Hardy).” In another article in the Times published yesterday, the authoer Dwight Garner says that In the Night Kitchen was his and his kid’s favorite book. “The whole thing is supple and serene and terrifying at the same time. Some have also objected to its would-be sexual innuendo (milk, phallic bottles and the like), and it was on the American Library Association’s list of the “most frequently challenged books” of the 1990s.”
I actually didn’t read Where the Wild Things Are until I was in graduate school. The Sendak collaboration I remember as a kid is “Really Rosie,” the animated show he did with singer Carole King, especially the Chicken Soup with Rice song. The song was from a book of the same name, which was part of a series of four small books called The Nutshell Library. I still think of that song and hum a bit of it every time I see a can of Chicken Soup with Rice.
I love that he was a mentor to another of my favorite children’s book illustrators, Paul O. Zelinsky (who I’ve met and fawned over when I found out he had also been an art history major in college). Zelinsky has gone on to illustrate some great books like the 1998 Caldecott award-winning book Rapunzel (my personal favorite), Beverly Cleary’s Strider and Dear Mr Henshaw, and Anne Isaacs folktale book Dust Devil.
Almost forgot one of the coolest things, lol. I wanted to give a shout-out to the Children’s Department Main Branch at Richland County Public Library, not only for being awesome, but for having the only endorsed-by-Sendak mural of Max and the Wild Things at the entrance/back of their department. I always think of it whenever I see the book.