Monday, September 28, 2009

Maurice Sendak

Maurice Sendak
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.

The Rosenbach Museum and Library here in Philadelphia is the official repository for Sendak’s work, with a permanent gallery devoted to his collection and frequent special exhibits.

I don’t know of an online repository for Sendak’s illustrations, but searching on Google, Google Books and Amazon will produce plenty of images. I’ve listed some other resources below.

One of them is an audio interview in which Sendak discusses one of my all time favorite children’s books, Crocket Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon.

5 thoughts on “Maurice Sendak

  1. Tim Summers

    I found “In the Night Kitchen” for sale and picked it up for my 3.75-year old boy. I remember wondering why the boy had no clothes when I was a child reading this book. My son asked me why. I don’t know, I said. My wife thinks the book is weird but it’s one of my son’s favorites for some reason.

  2. Charley Parker Post author

    Sendak said that he ditched the boys clothes to avoid the mess of having to draw him with his clothes soaked in batter, but I think it was also to add another dream-like element to the mood of the story.

  3. Antek

    This story is all over the Internet and it says it all. I’m sorry I have no idea what the original source is but it’s to good to not share as many times as possible.

    “Once a little boy sent me a charming card with a little drawing on it. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters — sometimes very hastily — but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, “Dear Jim: I loved your card.” Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, “Jim loved your card so much he ate it.” That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.”  ? Maurice Sendak

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