May 8: Author and Illustrator Maurice Sendak Dies


Today in 2012, longtime Connecticut resident Maurice Sendak died in Danbury from complications following a stroke.  Sendak was a prolific childrens’ book author and illustrator who wrote and illustrated dozens of books for over a fifty-year period.  Born into a Jewish family in Brooklyn in 1928, Sendak was a self-taught illustrator who found work filling in backgrounds for comic books and illustrating other authors’ childrens’ books (most notably the Little Bear series by Else Holmelund Minarik) before publishing his own works in the early 1960s.

Maurice Sendak signing books at the UConn Co-op Bookstore in 1988. (UConn Libraries Archives & Special Collections)

Sendak’s most famous work was his picture book Where the While Things Are, which chronicled the fantastical journey of a young boy to a world populated by wild, giant, and grotesque creatures.  Published in 1963, the book was notable for its rejection of the typical children’s story model, which tended to feature well-behaved children in idealistic settings and conclude with a moral or lesson in good behavior.  At the time of its publication, some critics thought the book’s tone and art style to be subversive, with the creatures appearing too “nightmare-inducing” to be suitable for children. Most children appeared to disagree; the 338-word, lavishly illustrated book has been a perennial bestseller and is often hailed as one of the most beloved children’s books of all time.

Over the course of his lifetime, Sendak accumulated a number of other prestigious awards, including the Hans Christian Andersen Award for Illustration, the National Medal of the Arts (presented to him in 1996 by President Bill Clinton) and the Caldecott Medal for the artwork of Where the Wild Things Are.  In 2009, Where the Wild Things Are was adapted into a feature-length film directed by Spike Jonze.

In early 2018, the University of Connecticut Archives and Special Collections announced that it would be the new home for the Maurice Sendak Collection, which features artwork, drafts, and source materials related to Sendak’s omnibus of children’s literature.  Sendak had received an honorary degree from the University in 1990, when he was the featured guest commencement speaker.

Street art honoring Sendak in Wicker Park, Chicago.

Further Reading

Margalit Fox, “Maurice Sendak, Author of Splendid Nightmares,” New York Times

Kenneth Best, “UConn Archives to Host Maurice Sendak Artwork,” UConn Today