Has any other writer-illustrator had as much impact on children’s publishing?
The magic brilliance of Where the Wild Things Are made it possible to embed danger and fear within picture books while at the same time putting hope, courage and faith in humanity at its very core.
The facts of Sendak’s life are well-documented: his American Jewish upbringing, his decision to become an illustrator when he saw the amazing Walt Disney film, Fantasia, his apprenticeship illustrating picture books during the 1950s.
Then came Where the Wild Things Are, which he wrote and illustrated.
What Sendak has done for us, time and time again, is challenge us. When he wrote and illustrated a book called In the Night Kitchen in 1970, he caused one of those painful but perhaps necessary debates about how to protect children. The little boy in the story was naked, and many American states decided that wasn’t acceptable and banned the book.
Sendak lived with psychoanalyst Eugene Glynn for 50 years and when Glynn died in 2007, what Sendak said was revealing and sad: “All I wanted was to be straight so my parents could be happy. They never, never, never knew.”
He was grumpy, apparently, but also, as you see in the books, wonderfully wise, and caring. He was a campaigner for justice and fairness, and, most importantly, he was kind.
We are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy, published in 1993, is an example of how Sendak combined humour with the bleakest observations of cruel and foolish human beings.
Sendak had a stroke, which caused his death on Tuesday.
He published a book last year, Bumble-Ardy, and it looks like a final book will come out posthumously, next year.
If your child hasn’t had the opportunity to meet the wild things, now is the time. – Rosemary Sorensen