Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Children of all ages have lost a friend

AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, file
News of Maurice Sendak's passing has made this a sad day for readers and writers alike.
It seems like only weeks ago I was snorkeling though the sea of information that I had gathered on Sendak and his work -- in anticipation of what I imagined to be a very enlightening and exciting interview.  

Like millions of children around the world, I was raised on Sendak's books and fantastic stories like, Where the Wild Things Are.  As one reporter said of the 83-year-old writer, "Mr. Sendak's books were essential ingredients of childhood for the generation born after 1960, or thereabouts, an in turn for their children."

It's true. I wanted my children to be exposed to the same thought-provoking (sometimes stubborn, pushy and even unpleasant) yet delightfully realistic characters that my father introduced to me in his best English accent. One of the reasons is that his characters, however imaginary, illustrated the message that, as with life, not all heroes and heroines are polished members of society. The other being his whimsical drawings alone -- influenced by the work of Marc Chagall and Henri Matisse, along with Pablo Picasso -- were worth a look.

Besides winning every important prize in children's literature -- as the illustrator of 80 books and author-illustrator of 20 more -- he was an advocate for the freedoms that allow us to write stories, whether adventure fantasies or national news. 

When the Wild Things was published in 1963, it was a startling departure from the Dick and Jane books of its time. Librarians, psychologists and many parents banned the book as too dark and frightening. Sendak stirred controversy again with the release of "In the Night Kitchen," because its graphic illustrations showed the child-hero Mickey falling through the air naked. Some librarians drew diapers on Mickey to cover the nudity. The stories not only held up to the criticism but stood the test of time. Any one of Sendak's award-winning books can be found at bookstores in print or digitally online. 

I never did get to chat with Sendak. My interview with him was cancelled because of his health -- a terrible cold I think -- and albeit thoroughly disappointed, I always imagined a second chance would come. Instead, we are left to cherish the gifts that he left behind, including My Brother's Book, a new poem and illustration by Sendak, inspired by his love for his late brother, Jack, scheduled for release in February.

Maurice Bernard Sendak was born in Brooklyn on June 10, 1928. He died earlier today in Danbury, Conn., at age 83, for days after suffering a stroke. "Sendak revolutionized children's books and how we think about childhood simply by leaving in what so many writers before had excluded," said a report by the Associated Press. Below are a few images capturing moments in his life. 

AP Photo/Susan Ragan, file
In this July 26, 1990 file photo, artist Maurice Sendak signs his individual prints from "The Mother Goose Collection," in New York.

AP Photo/Francesco Guazzelli, Syracuse University in Florence
In this Jan. 20, 2005 photo above, released by Syracuse University in Florence, central Italy, Thursday Jan. 20, 2005, shows a moment of the Fantasy Opera in one act and nine scenes, "Where The Wild Things Are" which will premiere with a fund raising gala for Florence's Meyer Children's Hospital. The Opera's libretto and original designs are by U.S. illustrator Maurice Sendak.

AP Photo, file
In this October 1988 file photo, author Maurice Sendak, creator of the best-selling children's book "Where the Wild Things Are," checks proofs of art for a major advertising campaign in his Ridgefield, Conn., home.

AP Photo/HarperCollins
This image provided by HarperCollins shows the book cover of "Where the Wild Things Are," by Maurice Sendak. Sendak illustrated about 80 books and was author-illustrator of 20.

AP Photo, file
In this Sept. 25, 1985 file photo, author Maurice Sendak poses with one of the characters from his book "Where the Wild Things Are," designed for the operatic adaptation of his book in St. Paul, Minn. 

"Dear Mr. Sendak," said an 8-year-old boy, in his letter to Maurice Sendak. "How much does it cost to get to where the wild things are? If it is not expensive, my sister and I would like to spend the summer there."

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