Today, Maurice Sendak passed away. And the children’s book world lost one of it’s innovators.
I wrote about this on my blog over at Kidslit Musings on Pinwheel Books. Here’s a transcription of what I wrote:
Inside all of us is hope. love. fear. sadness. dreams. adventure. and so much more.
If it hadn’t been for Maurice Sendak, I don’t think a lot of us would remember that.
This morning, we are grieving the loss of a beloved icon in children’s literature. Most famously known for Where the Wild Things Are, author/illustrator Maurice Sendak passed away today. He was 83 years old.
But his career is so much more than that. He is the gold standard for some of the most highly praised children’s books. Some of his stories have caused controversy, but many of his stories embody the essence of childhood. Here’s just a taste of his career, as the New York Times surmises in an article written this morning (read the full version at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/09/books/maurice-sendak-childrens-author-dies-at-83.html?_r=1):
Among the other titles he wrote and illustrated, all from Harper & Row, are “In the Night Kitchen” (1970) and “Outside Over There” (1981), which together with “Where the Wild Things Are” form a trilogy; “The Sign on Rosie’s Door” (1960); “Higglety Pigglety Pop!” (1967); and “The Nutshell Library” (1962), a boxed set of four tiny volumes comprising “Alligators All Around,” “Chicken Soup With Rice,” “One Was Johnny” and “Pierre.”
In September, a new picture book by Mr. Sendak, “Bumble-Ardy” — the first in 30 years for which he produced both text and illustrations — was issued by HarperCollins Publishers. The book…tells the not-altogether-lighthearted story of an orphaned pig (his parents are eaten) who gives himself a riotous birthday party.
These are not your typical Golden Books stories for children. They aren’t ‘cutesy’, but rather gritty, dark, sometimes scary, but so honest and true. Sendak was full of imagination, and seemed to just get what kids were all about in his stories. And for the most part, they were angry, annoying, bossy, snarky, crass, lonely, and introspective. We know our kids have these qualities, but rarely did books portray these characters as protagonists. Sendak didn’t shun from difficult stories to tell. Probably because he himself had a difficult life story to also tell.
As an artist/illustrator, I think how he portrayed himself and his life in his work is what has most deeply affected me as I have gotten to know him through his books. He was honest with himself, and honest in his characters. They were never mean, never hurtful, just not always happy-go-lucky. They were tinged with a bit of harsh reality that books tended to sugar coat throughout children’s literature of the 20th century.
I think this is why books today can tackle so many different issues. Why protagonists are flawed, have imperfections, have obstacles and have upset moments. They can get angry, or sad. They can also be completely happy and excited and alive. Even Sendak’s characters achieve this spectrum of emotion.
The fluidity of his characters speaks to his artistic talents, taking inspiration from traditional techniques and turn-of-the-century, Golden Age Illustrators. This book in particular has inspired a lot of my storytelling capabilities. The New York Times notes:
Mr. Sendak went on to illustrate books by other well-known children’s authors, including several by Ruth Krauss, notably “A Hole Is to Dig” (1952), and Else Holmelund Minarik’s “Little Bear” series. The first title he wrote and illustrated himself, “Kenny’s Window,” published in 1956, was a moody, dreamlike story about a lonely boy’s inner life.
“A Hole Is to Dig” may be another undiscovered gem in Sendak’s career, in this author’s opinion. What is remarkable about his body of work is this depth of personality his characters can emulate. One minute, there might be Max throwing a tantrum, but the next, they may appear in vignettes like “A Hole is To Dig”, where they are dancing, singing, or just playing.
These quieter stories are extremely provocative. The Moon Jumpers – for instance – is a tale about children in the night. Beautifully written and illustrated, there is a visceral energy in the mundanity of the adventure. And yet, in its mundanity is fantasy and adventure!
It’s so important for an author to have range. And by golly Sendak had it. He had a deep understanding of children throughout his life, combined with a need to reflect his own life stories. These gifts will always be treasured, and always be missed.
To me, he will always be just another big kid in a grownup world