Maurice Sendak, father of the Wild Things, dies at 83

The prize-winning author and illustrator of more than 100 books, including the children's classic Where the Wild Things Are, has died aged 83

Maurice Sendak, American born author of Where the Wild Things Are, has died at the age of 83. Over a career that began in the late 1940s he illustrated more than 100 books and wrote more than 20, but it was Where the Wild Things Are, published in 1963, that made his name internationally, selling over 17m copies.

The book is the tale of a young boy, Max, who sets off on an adventure in his imagination after being sent to his room with no supper. He discovers the Land of the Wild Things where he proves to be the most fearsome of them all, becoming the king of the wild things and enjoying a wild rumpus until, homesick, he returns to his bedroom. The book was made into a live action film in 2009, directed by Spike Jonze from a screenplay by Dave Eggers.

The wild things of Max's imagination were based on Sendak's own relatives. He was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Polish Jewish immigrant parents and was aware, in his early teens, of the death of much of his extended family in the Holocaust. The terrors of his childhood specifically, and childhood more generally, flow through his work. "I refuse to lie to children," he said in an interview with the Guardian last year. "I refuse to cater to the bullshit of innocence."

Sendak's 1970 picture book In the Night Kitchen caused controversy of a different kind, with its depiction of an entirely naked small boy running through a surreal kitchen where he is baking a cake on a dream journey. The book appears frequently on the "most challenged" or "banned" lists compiled by the American Library Association. Sendak's own favourite among his work, Outside Over There, tackles sibling rivalry through the story of Ida, a young girl who resents her baby sister but must then save her when she is kidnapped by mysterious goblins.

Sendak also said that the term "children's illustrator" annoyed him, since it seems to belittle his talent. "I have to accept my role. I will never kill myself like Vincent Van Gogh. Nor will I paint beautiful water lilies like Monet. I can't do that. I'm in the idiot role of being a kiddie book person," he said.

However, he was honoured by the children's books world, winning some of its most prestigious prizes, from the Caldecott medal and the Hans Christian Andersen award to the Astrid Lindgren memorial award.

Sendak lived with his partner, Eugene Glynn, a psychoanalyst, for 50 years until Glynn's death in May 2007. Sendak described himself as "caved-in with sadness" at the loss but he continued to work, producing Bumble-Ardy, a book featuring a family of pigs last year.


Michelle Pauli

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Maurice Sendak interview - video

The acclaimed American-born author of Where the Wild Things Are reflects on how it became the 'book of his life'

08, May, 2012 @6:35 PM

Article image
Maurice Sendak's stories opened the door to the Wild Things

Sarah Crown: The fiercely private writer and illustrator's gloriously unsentimental books achieved that rare thing in children's literature – a place in our collective consciousness

Sarah Crown

08, May, 2012 @2:41 PM

Article image
Maurice Sendak: the fight in him was an expression of life

Emma Brockes: When I interviewed Maurice Sendak last year, he was furious with everything. That fury came from love – and it drove his art

Emma Brockes

08, May, 2012 @3:59 PM

Article image
My Brother's Book by Maurice Sendak – review
Maurice Sendak's last book is a beautiful but devastating tribute to his brother, writes Helen Zaltzman

Helen Zaltzman

02, Mar, 2013 @11:00 AM

Article image
Maurice Sendak tells parents worried by Wild Things to 'go to hell'

Children's author gives short shrift to concerns that Where the Wild Things Are is too frightening for children

Alison Flood

20, Oct, 2009 @11:00 AM

Article image
My hero: Maurice Sendak
'Sendak did not make books for children. He just made books. His linework was elegant, sometimes even cute, but always honest.' By Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman

11, May, 2012 @9:35 PM

Article image
Children's books today aren't wild enough, says Maurice Sendak
Author of Where the Wild Things Are says he's observed 'a going back to childhood innocence that I never quite believed in'

Alison Flood

19, Sep, 2011 @12:20 PM

Article image
Maurice Sendak: an appreciation
Like most great children's writers and illustrators, his work came from deep within – in his case somewhere very dark, writes Shirley Hughes

Shirley Hughes

12, May, 2012 @11:04 PM

Article image
Maurice Sendak, who let children be just what they wanted | Morven Crumlish
Morven Crumlish: Where the Wild Things Are, like Maurice Sendak's other books, is far less unsettling for children than it is for adults

Morven Crumlish

08, May, 2012 @5:01 PM

Maurice Sendak: a life in pictures

Maurice Sendak, author of Where The Wild Things Are, has died, aged 83. We take a tour through his life

08, May, 2012 @3:36 PM