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Maurice Sendak: 10 Things You May Not Have Known About the Man Who Showed Us Where The Wild Things Are

Maurice Sendak

I love the work of Maurice Sendak. Growing up, Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen were two of my very favorite books and I still have my well-worn copies, physically showing the love I bestowed on them with their torn pages and hot cocoa stains.  I attempted — in vein — to instill this same appreciation for Sendak into my child. But she didn’t see the charm. She thought his work was dark, creepy, and weird — the exact things that probably drew me and countless others to his books.

But I’m going to attempt reintroduce Sendak to my daughter tonight, in memory of the man, who died on Wednesday at the age of 83, reportedly from complications from a stroke he had several days ago. And one thing I realized when reading the obituaries and death notices about Sendak? I really didn’t know much about the man; I just knew his work. I never realized that the darkness that always seemed present in his work was apparently part of him. If you aren’t as versed in Sendak’s life, here are ten things to know about the man, the illustrator, the author, and the inspiration to kids and adults all over the world.

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  • The Beginings 1 of 10
    The Beginings
    Maurice Sendak was born in Brooklyn, New York, on June 10, 1928 to Polish Jewish immigrants named Phillip and Sarah Schindler Sendak. At the age of 16, Sendak's mother was sent to live in America by herself. Sendak had said that it was because her own mom "couldn't bear her any more." He had called her a big flirt and a "trouble maker" who had "committed herself to every living human male in the village." Sendak's father was the son of a rabbi and "he had prestige and was extremely handsome and devil-may-care. He came here after her and became a drudge. His family was sitting shiva for him [mourned him] back in the old country because he had done this terrible thing, chasing a girl when your father is a rabbi and schlepping all the way to New York."
    Source: The Guardian
    Image Source: Jerelle Kraus
  • The Scars of the Holocaust 2 of 10
    The Scars of the Holocaust
    Much of Sendak's extended family was killed in the Holocaust. His father found out what happened to his family back home on the day of Maurice Sendak's bar mitzvah.
    Source: The Jewish Week
    Image Source: LA Times
  • His Professional Start 3 of 10
    His Professional Start
    He began his career in art when he got a job at All-American Comics, where he would fill in the backgrounds for the book versions of the Mutt and Jeff comic strips.
    Source: NNDB
    Image Source: Diamond Galleries
  • FAO Schwartz 4 of 10
    FAO Schwartz
    In 1948, when he was at 20, he worked on building window displays for the famed F. A. O. Schwarz toy store in New York City. Through the book buyer at the store, he met editor Ursula Nordstrom.
    Source: New York Times
    Image Source: FAO
  • His First Illustration Job 5 of 10
    His First Illustration Job
    Ursula Nordstrom's was a distinguished children's book editor and got Sendak his first gig, doing the illustrations for The Wonderful Farm by Marcel Aymé, which was published in 1951.
    Source: New York Times
    Image Source: MSN
  • His First Book That He Authored & Illustrated 6 of 10
    His First Book That He Authored & Illustrated
    He was a frail child who spent much time in bed. Sendak had "suffered from measles, double pneumonia, and scarlet fever between the ages of 2 and 4. Sendak was very rarely allowed outside to play." And by being holed up in the house, he developed his skills. As the New York Times notes, "Mr. Sendak had loved to draw. That and looking out the window had helped him pass the long hours in bed." The first title he actually wrote and also illustrated himself was Kenny's Window, which was published in 1956 and is a "moody, dreamlike story about a lonely boy's inner life," and was inspired by his childhood.
    Source: New York Times
    Image Source: Rosenbach
  • His Partner Eugene Glynn 7 of 10
    His Partner Eugene Glynn
    Maurice Sendak was with his partner Eugene Glynn, a psychoanalyst, for 50 years until Glynn's death in May 2007. He addressed the topic of his family's reaction to him being gay saying, "Of course, they knew. Especially my father. My mother was so bewildering and strange and lived in another world, I don't know what she knew. Nothing was said, but if something had been said, I would have been thrown out of the house. And yet they met him and respected him. Strange."
    Source: The Guardian
    Image Source: Jonathan Weinberg
  • His Home 8 of 10
    His Home
    Sendak lived in the same house for 40 years, a house he shared with Glynn until Gylnn's death. The home in Connecticut was originally built in 1791.
    Source: Curated Object
  • From the Page to the Stage 9 of 10
    From the Page to the Stage
    Starting in the 1970s, Sendak started to design sets and costumes for adaptations of his own work, and famously did the sets and costumes for 1983 production of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker, a film version of which was released in 1986.
    Source: New York Times
  • A Kiddie Book Person 10 of 10
    A Kiddie Book Person
    "I refuse to lie to children," he said in an interview with the Guardian last year. "I refuse to cater to the bullshit of innocence." The term "children's illustrator" annoyed him. "I have to accept my role," he said. "I will never kill myself like Vincent Van Gogh. Nor will I paint beautiful water lilies like Monet. I can't do that. I'm in the idiot role of being a kiddie book person." A kiddie book person we all loved.
    Source: The Guardian

    Source: Blue Hour Studio

    Check out these classic interviews Sendak did with Stephen Colbert below:
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Above Image: Harper Collins

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