Maurice Sendak has been a window dresser for F.A.O. Schwartz, an illustrator for All-American Comics, and, since 1951, the author and illustrator of some of the most well-known and influential books in children’s literature.
A fair bit of attention is currently focused on Where the Wild Things Are, his award winning and controversial classic that has just been adapted as a movie.
Sendak is the author/illustrator of several other books and the illustrator of over 40 more. My personal favorite is In the Night Kitchen, the illustrations for which harken back to the illustrators of the early 20th Century, as well as carrying a flavor of the surreal (i.e. dream based) comic strip flights of Winsor McCay.
The controversy about Where the Wild Things Are focused on the darkness of the illustrations, deemed “too frightening” by adults unfamiliar with the nature of traditional fairy tales.
In the Night Kitchen aroused concerns because the young protagonist loses his clothing and is naked for the first part of the story, something innocent to children who only learn the concept of shame that shame-filled adults teach them. Many of those shame-filled adults have challenged the book, tried to ban it from libraries or actually censor library copies by defacing the book, covering the “naughty bits”.
Also controversial is the implied darkness of the story sequence in which the threat of being placed in an oven with the bread dough, by bakers sporting Hitler-like mustaches, is an allusion to Sendak’s own preoccupation with the events of the Holocaust. (See the excerpt on Google Books.)
Sendak’s willingness to interject darkness and sophisticated themes (however tangentially referenced) into his children’s books, along with wild imaginings and his wonderful use of color and texture, light and shadow, has made his work resonate with generations of readers, young and old.