Maurice Sendak, the children’s author and illustrator best known for the 1963 classic “Where the Wild Things Are,” died Tuesday in Danbury, Conn., reportedly of complications from a stroke. He was 83.
The Brooklyn-born author, the son of Jewish immigrants from Poland, lost many family members in the Holocaust and spent time in bed with health problems as a child. After seeing the Disney movie “Fantasia” at the age of 12, an experience that influenced his work throughout his career, he decided to become an illustrator.Video: ‘Wild Things’ author Maurice Sendak dead at 83 (on this page)
Career of controversy
During the 1950s, Sendak illustrated children’s books by other authors before starting to write his own stories, most notably the "Little Bear" series by Else Holmelund Minarik. His first solo work was "Kerry's Window" in 1956.
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When “Where the Wild Things Are,” also a solo work, came out in 1963, its monstrous characters (actually parodies of Sendak’s aunts and uncles) raised concerns from some parents. But the book, about a boy named Max who is banished to his room and takes a fantasy journey to a mysterious land whose grotesque inhabitants crown him king, quickly brought him international acclaim, including the prestigious Caldecott Medal. Despite Sendak’s dim view of Hollywood, "Where the Wild Things Are" became a feature film in 2009.
Sendak wrote and illustrated many other books, including the controversial 1970 work “In the Night Kitchen,” about a boy who dreams of helping a baker create a cake in a bizarre kitchen. The book's hero, Mickey, is naked in illustrations throughout the book, and it has frequently been challenged and banned. Other Sendak works include “Outside, Over There” (1981), the story of a girl who is left to care for her younger sister and reluctantly goes to her rescue when the child is abducted by goblins.
Sendak's work extended beyond printed media. He was an advisor to the Children's Television Workshop during the initial development of "Sesame Street" and worked on several animated stories for the show, including an adaptation of his book "Bumble-Ardy." In 1975 he produced an animated TV special, "Really Rosie," which featured the voice of Carole King. Inspired by a little girl Sendak observed singing and dancing outside during his childhood in Brooklyn, "Really Rosie" has become a staple of children's theater troupes.Video: 1980: Sendak talks about ‘Wild Things’ ‘Really Rosie’ (on this page)
Sendak created a stage version of "Where the Wild Things Are" in 1979 and designed opera and ballet sets for such groups as Houston Grand Opera and the New York City Opera. He also collaborated with "Angels in America" playwright Tony Kushner on an English version of the Czech children's opera "Brundibar"; his illustrated book version, featuring text by Kushner, was named one of the 10 best illustrated books of 2003 by the New York Times Book Review.Sendak's work lived 'Wild' life in movies, TV
Accolades and remembrances
In addition to his Caldecott Medal for "Where the Wild Things Are," Sendak's many accolades include a 1970 Hans Christian Andersen Award for children's illustration, a 1982 National Book Award for "Outside Over There," a 1983 Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, and a 2003 Astrid Lingren Memorial Award.
Sendak lived with psychoanalyst Eugene Glynn for 50 years before Glynn's death in 2007.Video: 2006: Maurice Sendak on latest kid's book (on this page)
Among those mourning Sendak's passing are a number of mothers who commented on the TODAY Moms Facebook page. Carolyn Larrabee said "Where the Wild Things Are" is "by far my daughter's favorite book...I've read it so much I have it memorized!" And Jamie Bishop admitted: "I'm actually crying.. I didn't realize how much his books mean to me. A big part of my childhood died this morning along with him."
Sendak's death stirred sentiment in the literary world as well. "I cannot put into words what I am feeling, what he and his work meant to me," tweeted young adult author Judy Blume. And the staff of the literary magazine McSweeney's tweeted: "We'll be roaring our terrible roars today. RIP, Maurice Sendak.”
TODAY anchors also were moved to comment. "A bit of our childhood just passed," Al Roker tweeted. "Hope he's playing with Max and the Wild Things." Savannah Guthrie also tweeted, remarking: "A wild rumpus in heaven today. Loved him."
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In one of his last public appearances, the outspoken author was a guest of Stephen Colbert on "The Colbert Report" in January. The two traded wisecracks and Sendak gave capsule reviews to children's classics by other authors, including "Green Eggs and Ham" by Dr. Seuss, which he liked, and the 1985 book "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie," for which he had little use.Story: 9 most subversive children’s books ever written
During the Colbert interview, the famously cranky Sendak remarked, "I didn't set out to make children happy!" And yet he did — generations of them.
— Rick Schindler
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