Born 10th, June, 1928, Maurice Sendak, the author of many children's picture books - including 'Where the Wild Things Are' - sadly passed away yesterday aged 83. Born in Brooklyn, NYC, Maurice the youngest of three siblings of an impecunious dressmaker.
While everyone in Sendak's family told stories, remembered gruesome fairy tales and Jewish folklore, and drew pictures, his other childhood influence was the cinema. He had written and illustrated his first book by the age of six; his was a childhood of observing from a window, drawing the children outside – he watched faces, guessed emotions, all his life; as he was a sickly child, constantly quarantined ("I learned early on that it was a very chancy business, being alive") and missing school, so Natalie, nine years older, was always having him "dumped on her", and he remembered both her great love and her demonic rages. He even put her into the third book of the trilogy of 'Where the Wild Things Are' as Ida. 'In the Night Kitchen', was his most personal book, and his favourite, a tribute to Natalie "who is Ida, very brave, very strong, very frightening, taking care of me" (the "Baby" of the story).
In high school, which he loathed desperately, he worked for All-American Comics, filling in backgrounds and storylines for the Mutt and Jeff strip, and in 1948 he and his elder brother Jack began to make animated wooden toys, which led to his working as a window designer in the New York toyshop FAO Schwarz.
Sendak was 21 or so at Christmas-time, when he decided to "draw his face off", and filled the whole shop-front with drawings from the Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol'. It was "like putting a huge hook in the water and waiting for a fish to be caught". A Harper and Row editor, Ursula Nordstrom, rose to the bait, commissioned him to illustrate The Wonderful Farm by Marcel Aymé, published in 1951, and became a lifelong friend. At that time he was getting the only formal art training he ever had, by attending night school at the Art Students League of New York for two years.
Sendak relished the miracle of having survived so long, having always faced up to the "arbitrary nature of life" – his European relatives perished in Nazi camps, his parents never hid from his baby self how close he was to death, and at the age of 39 he had a major heart attack. Pragmatically, he set out to accomplish more in what time he had, and he cared deeply about the life we were bequeathing our children. For this complex man and great artist had "an intense nostalgia, a passionate affiliaton for childhood", and those very accomplishments are the finest of all bequests.