Purpose of this Blog...

You may have noticed that not all books are equal in capturing children's imaginations and in cultivating those innocent, tender souls. My goal is to help you find the ones that do!
(Painting by Mary Cassatt: "Mrs Cassatt Reading to her Grandchildren" -1888)

Monday, June 10, 2013

Maurice Sendak: From Window Dresser to Wild Thing Creator

Today would have been beloved author and illustrator Maurice Sendak's 85th birthday.  Sendak died just over a year ago, May 8, 2012.  He is best know for writing and illustrating the Caldecott Medal book Where the Wild Things Are, but he lent his detailed illustrations to many other children's books, including one of my favorite childhood series: Else Homelund Minairk's Little Bear books.
As a child, I recall being completely caught up in those simple stories of imaginative Little Bear -- his travel to the moon and his encounter with a mermaid at the seaside -- all via Sendak's wonderful illustrations. The cover art, framed beautifully by twisting branches and flowering vines, is not typical of children’s books; but Maurice Sendak would be proud of that!

His creative artwork is a perfect example of how influential exceptional picture books can be in cultivating art appreciation for little ones.  In high school, I was constantly drawn to the detailed floral beauty of William Morris textiles, as well as the pen and ink cross-hatch style of Edward Gorey’s illustrations. I sometimes wonder if my early exposure and fascination with Maurice Sendak's art had anything to do with forming my future tastes.
Richly detailed Sendak illustrations can be found in
Dear Mili, by Wilhelm Grimm (more photos here - source)
Often sick and kept indoors as a child, Maurice Sendak loved spending his time reading and drawing. I read somewhere that the first book Sendak read as a boy was Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper, and that he always kept his original copy of it as a reminder of the influence of great storytelling.

Other than having taken a few night classes in art after high school graduation, Sendak was basically a self-taught artist. This talent, combined with his admiration for Walt Disney’s Fantasia - which he saw at the age of twelve - inspired Sendak to pursue a career where he could utilize his artistic abilities. 

From Window Dresser to Wild Thing Creator 
Here are some interesting facts and trivia about this very gifted man...
  • Before he wrote and illustrated books, Maurice Sendak was commissioned as a window dresser for F.A.O. Schwarz. 
  • His first-ever illustrated book was a 1947 science textbook, Atomics for the Millions, co-written by his high school biology teacher. If you're lucky enough to come across the first edition of this collector’s item in a used bookstore, grab it!  (Click here to see images from the book). 
  • Maurice Sendak's Caldecott Medal winning book, Where the Wild Things Are, published in 1963, is one of the top ten bestselling children's books of all time, about a mischievous boy named Max, his imaginary wild friend-things, and their rumpus in the forest.  It was originally conceived as "Where the Wild Horses Are", but Sendak told People Magazine, "I couldn't draw horses." (go here to read my past post about the 50th Anniversary of Wild Things.)
    • Maurice Sendak's "The Hobbit", in pen and ink, 1967 (Credit: Maurice Sendak/Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale University)
  • Another bit of information many may not be aware of, is that Sendak (at J.R.R. Tolkien’s request) submitted two illustrations for The Hobbit's 30th Anniversary Edition in the late 1960's.  There was a bit of a mix-up and mislabeling of the artwork samples, so Tolkien did not approve the drawings. The two men never did talk in person, because the day the publisher had scheduled their meeting, Sendak suffered a heart attack.  You can read more here about "the 1960's masterpiece that could have been", in this LA Times guest essay by Tony Di'Terlizzi.
  • In the late 1970's Sendak began a second career designing sets for ballets and operas (both stage and television productions).  His chief musical passion was always Mozart. 
  • Sendak described his books as stories "about human emotion and life. They’re pigeonholed as children's books, but the best ones aren't -- they're just books". (From a People Magazine interview in 2003.)

What is your favorite book by Maurice Sendak?


  1. Maurice Sendak is truly one of my favorites. My littlest loves Wild Things and In the Night Kitchen, and we all love the Nutshell books. My oldest loves The Sign on Rosie's Door and Outside, Over There. I think his illustrations for Dear Mili are some of my favorites.

  2. Thanks for the comment - I haven't read (or heard of) Outside, Over There. Have you seen the Youtube of Meryl Streep reading Rosie's Door for Sendak's 80th birthday? :) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d79U3b9Dp54