Sad news today for kids of all ages: Maurice Sendak, probably the most well-known children's literature author and illustrator of all time, passed away this morning from complications from a stroke.
In his 83 years, Sendak wrote and illustrated more than 50 children's books. His most famous, "Where the Wild Things Are," was a story about an unruly boy named Max, who is sent to his room for his misdeeds and subsequently escapes to a world inhabited by creatures even wilder than he is. "Where The Wild Things Are" won the distinguished Caldecott Medal, was adapted into a live-action film by Spike Jonze in 2009, and has sold more than 17 million copies worldwide.
I can't imagine there are many children's bookshelves that do not include a copy of this book.
Sendak's other popular titles include "In the Night Kitchen," "Higglety Pigglety Pop!" and "Nutshell Library." An illustrated poem about his late brother, "My Brother's Book," is slated to be released posthumously.
So why did Sendak's books speak to so many generations of kids? The Washington Post said it very well in its obituary for the great author, saying Sendak "transformed children's literature from a gentle playscape into a medium to address the psychological intensity of growing up."
Unlike other children's book authors — like Jan Berenstain who we also lost recently — Sendak was not cute and cuddly. He was gruff, sharp-tongued, and cantankerous, once stating in an interview that he likes children "as few and far between as I do adults, and maybe a bit more, because I really don't like adults, at all."
In a 1989 interview with Terry Gross of NPR's "Fresh Air," Sendak admitted that he never actually wrote for children — but that somehow what he wrote turned out to be for children nonetheless. And maybe that's why his books turned out to be so popular with kids. Because unlike so many book authors and toy manufacturers, he wasn't desperately trying to win their attention. He didn't dumb it down or jazz it up with sparkles. His writing and illustrations explored the darker side of childhood but still managed to let kids know that everything would turn out OK in the end.
In another interview with NPR's Gross in 2011, Sendak said:
"I have nothing now but praise for my life. I'm not unhappy. I cry a lot because I miss people. They die and I can't stop them. They leave me and I love them more. ... What I dread is the isolation. ... There are so many beautiful things in the world which I will have to leave when I die, but I'm ready, I'm ready, I'm ready."
We will miss you, but you will never be forgotten.