10 Things You May Not Have Known About Maurice Sendak (1928-2012)

“But the wild things cried, ‘Oh please don’t go – we’ll eat you up – we love you so!’

And Max said, ‘No!’

The wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws but Max stepped into his private boat and waved goodbye.” – Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are

Award-winning children’s author Maurice Sendak, best known for his 1963 children’s book Where the Wild Things Are, has died. His editor, Michael di Capua, said Sendak passed away due to complications following a stroke. He was 83.

As scores of obituaries and tributes surface in honour of the beloved author, we’ve compiled a list of 10 things you may not know about Maurice Sendak:

  1. Sendak was born in June 1928, the sickly and often-bedridden son of Polish-Jewish immigrants living in Brooklyn, New York.
  2. In much the same way that many beloved Disney-treated fairy tales find their origins in darker, more sinister stories, Sendak’s work was often informed by personal suffering, as well as the many social and political horrors he encountered as a child. According to The New York Times, when it comes to his seminal tale Where the Wild Things Are, “He always maintained he was drawing his relatives — who, in his memory at least, had hovered like a pack of middle-aged gargoyles above the childhood sickbed to which he was often confined.” In Outside Over There: “An image from the Lindbergh crime scene — a ladder leaning against the side of a house-.in which a baby is carried off by goblins.” And Higglety Pigglety Pop! Or, There Must Be More to Life: “-a valentine to Jennie, his beloved Sealyham terrier, who died shortly before the book was published.”
    As well, Sendak lost many relatives in the Holocaust. CBC reports the author went on to use the likenesses of family members and friends in his various works.
  3. Sendak taught himself to draw. His career began modestly when he was hired to illustrate the textbook Atomics for the Millions, by Dr. Maxwell Leigh Eidinoff, in 1947.
  4. The Republican reported the author’s favourite cartoon character was Mickey Mouse. He also believed The Wizard of Oz was the “’the high point’ of American films made for children”
  5. Sendak was gay, though he famously told The New York Times in 2008 that, “All I wanted was to be straight so my parents could be happy. They never, never, never knew.”
  6. Like the main character Max in Where the Wild Things Are, Sendak also went without dinner on occasion. “I often went to bed without supper ’cause I hated my mother’s cooking,” he said in an interview with PBS. “So, to go to bed without supper was not a torture to me. If she was gonna hurt me, she’d make me eat.”
  7. In a career that spanned more than six decades, Sendak wrote more than 20 children’s books and illustrated scores of other authors’ work. In addition, he designed sets and costumes for theatrical productions.
  8. To date, Where the Wild Things Are has sold more than 19 million copies worldwide and has been adapted into an opera, short animated films and a major 2009 live action motion picture. The book also earned him the coveted Caldecott Medal “awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children – to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.”
  9. 2011’s Bumble-Ardy marked the first Sendak book in 30 years that he’d both written and illustrated.
  10. Though he’s passed away, Sendak fans can look forward to one final literary offering. February 2013 will see the release of My Brother’s Book, written for his late brother, Jack.