Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: Twentieth Century)
Article abstract: Sendak was one of the twentieth century’s best-known illustrators of children’s books. He received the international Hans Christian Andersen Award in 1970 in recognition of his major contribution to children’s literature.
Maurice Bernard Sendak was the youngest of three children born to Polish-Jewish immigrants. Childhood influences included his parents’ old-world traditions of Jewish village life and the urban society of the United States in the 1930’s—two very different, and often conflicting, cultures. His father was an especially gifted storyteller who related many tales of life in Poland. Sendak has identified these stories as important early sources for the development of his own work. Another important influence was the family’s weekly visit to the local cinema, where young Maurice saw musicals, monsters, comedies, and Walt Disney’s Fantasia (1940), which he later described as the most aesthetic experience of his childhood. Mickey Mouse became one of the dominant figures of Sendak’s youth, “an early best friend” as he later recalled, as well as the subject of his earliest extant color drawing, done in 1934 at age six.
Sendak, a frail child plagued with various, often severe, illnesses, has stated that as a result of his delicate health, he was terrified of death because he heard talk of it all around him. Unable to take part in many strenuous...
(The entire section is 2063 words.)
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Pointing out that fear and anxiety are “intrinsic” to children’s daily lives, Sendak defended his widely debated—and wildly popular—picture book Where the Wild Things Are (1963) with the claim, “It is through fantasy that children achieve catharsis.” Suggesting that children have aggressive impulses toward adults, this award-winning book was considered by one librarian as too disturbing “to be left where a sensitive child may come upon it at twilight.”
While the psychoanalytic undercurrents of Where the Wild Things Are caused alarm, the nudity of In the Night Kitchen (1970) provoked open calls for censorship. Parents in Morrisonville, New York; Jacksonville, Florida; and Cornish, Maine, for example, demanded it be removed from school libraries, protesting that the nakedness of the book’s young protagonist would promote child molestation. In the Night Kitchen was reinstated in each case; however, the book did end up being placed on a closed shelf in Indiana and removed from a library in Washington. Sendak responded that his pictures “aren’t any more graphic” than “paintings of the Christ child.”
Nudity—this time of goblins—caused Outside over There (1981) to be pulled from the shelves by a South Dakota school librarian. Noted...
(The entire section is 215 words.)