Writer and illustrator Maurice Sendak dies
American author of more than 50 books, including Where the Wild Things Are, passes away after stroke complications.
Last Modified: 08 May 2012 19:35

Maurice Sendak, the author and illustrator best known for his classic children's books including Where the Wild Things Are, has died at the age of 83.

Lynn Caponera, longtime friend and caretaker, said she was with Sendak when he died at a hospital in Danbury, Connecticut, on Tuesday.

She said he suffered a stroke on Friday and never regained consciousness.

Sendak did not limit his career to a safe and successful formula of conventional children's books, though it was the illustrations he did for others' children's books that launched his career.

Where the Wild Things Are was quite controversial when it was published, and Sendak's quirky and borderline scary illustrations for ETA Hoffmann's Nutcracker did not have the sugar coating featured in other versions.

Sendak also created costumes for ballets and staged operas, including the Czech opera Brundibar, which he also penned with collaborator Tony Kushner in 2003.

'Kiddie-book author'

Despite his varied resume, Sendak accepted and embraced the label "kiddie-book author".

"I write books as an old man, but in this country you have to be categorised, and I guess a little boy swimming in the nude in a bowl of milk [as in In the Night Kitchen] can't be called an adult book,'' he said in a 2003 interview.

"So I write books that seem more suitable for children, and that's OK with me. They are a better audience and tougher critics. Kids tell you what they think, not what they think they should think.

Sendak's own life was clouded by the shadow of the Holocaust. He had said that the events of World War II were the root of his raw and honest artistic style.

Born in 1928 and raised in Brooklyn, Sendak said he remembered the tears shed by his Jewish-Polish immigrant parents as they would get news of atrocities and the deaths of relatives and friends.

"My childhood was about thinking about the kids over there [in Europe]. My burden is living for those who didn't," he told the Associated Press news agency.

Sendak, his sister Natalie and late brother Jack were the last of the family on his father's side since his other relatives did not move to the US before the war. The only family member Sendak knew on his mother's side was his grandmother.

Sendak did not go to university and worked a string of odd jobs until he went to work at the famous toy store FAO Schwarz as a window dresser in 1948.

But it was his childhood dream to be an illustrator and his break came in 1951 when he was commissioned to do the art for Wonderful Farm by Marcel Ayme.

By 1957 he was writing his own books.

Finding fame

It was Brundibar, a folk tale about two children who need to earn enough money to buy milk for their sick mother that Sendak completed when he was 75, he was most proud of.

"This is the closest thing to a perfect child I've ever had," he said.

Sendak stayed away from the book-signing bandwagon that many other authors use for publicity; he said he couldn't stand the thought of parents dragging children to wait on line for hours to see a little old man in thick glasses.

"Kids don't know about best sellers," he said. "They go for what they enjoy. They aren't star chasers and they don't suck up. It's why I like them."

In all, Sendak illustrated more than 50 books and won a variety of prizes for his drawings.

Where the Wild Things Are earned Sendak a prestigious Caldecott Medal for the best children's book of 1964 and became a hit movie in 2009.

Bill Clinton, former US president, awarded Sendak a National Medal of the Arts in 1996 for his vast portfolio of work.

Sendak received the international Hans Christian Andersen medal for illustration in 1970.

In 1983 he won the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award from the American Library Association.

The Kane Funeral Home in Ridgefield confirmed it had been contacted by the family to handle funeral services.

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