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Maurice Bernard Sendak (born June 10, 1928) is an American writer and illustrator of children's literature. He is best known for his book Where the Wild Things Are, published in 1963.

Early life

Sendak was born in Brooklyn, New Yorkmarker to Polish Jewish immigrant parents Sarah (née Schindler) and Philip Sendak, a dressmaker. He decided to become an illustrator after viewing Walt Disney's film Fantasia at the age of twelve, however, his love of books came at a early age when he developed health problems and was confined to his bed. One of his first professional commissions was to create window displays for the toy store F.A.O. Schwarz.. His illustrations were first published in 1947 in a textbook titled Atomics for the Millions by Dr. Maxwell Leigh Eidinoff. He spent much of the 1950s working as an artist for children's books, before beginning to write his own stories.


Sendak gained international acclaim after writing and illustrating Where the Wild Things Are, although the book's depictions of fanged monsters concerned some parents when it was first released, as his characters were somewhat grotesque in appearance. Sendak's seeming attraction to the forbidden or nightmarish aspects of children's fantasy have made him a subject of controversy. The monsters in the book were actually based on relatives who would come to weekly dinners. Because of their broken English and odd mannerisms, they were the perfect basis for the monsters in Sendak's book. Before Where the Wild Things Are, Sendak was best known for illustrating Else Holmelund Minarik's Little Bear series of books.

His book In the Night Kitchen, first published in 1970, has often been subjected to censorship for its drawings of a young boy prancing naked through the story. The book has been challenged in several American states including Illinoismarker, New Jerseymarker, Minnesotamarker, and Texasmarker.

In the Night Kitchen regularly appears on the American Library Association's list of "frequently challenged and banned books." It was listed number 25 on the "100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-1999."

Outside, Over There, is about a girl, Ida, and her sibling jealousy and responsibility. Her father is away and so Ida is left to watch her baby sister, much to her dismay. Her sister is kidnapped by goblins, and Ida must go off on a magic adventure to rescue her. At first, she's not really eager to get her sister and nearly passes her sister right by when she becomes absorbed in the magic of the quest. In the end, she rescues her baby sister, destroys the goblins and returns home committed to caring for her sister until her father returns home. The film Labyrinth is of a similar plot.

Sendak was an early member of the National Board of Advisors of the Children's Television Workshop during the development stages of the television series Sesame Street. He also wrote and designed an animated sequence for the series, Bumble Ardy, based on his own book, and with Jim Henson as the voice of Bumble Ardy.

Sendak produced an animated television production based on his work titled Really Rosie, featuring the voice of Carole King, which was broadcast in 1975 and is available on video (usually as part of video compilations of his work). An album of the songs was also produced. He contributed the opening segment to Simple Gifts, a Christmas collection of six animated shorts shown on PBS TV in 1977 and later issued on VHS in 1993. He adapted his book Where the Wild Things Are for the stage in 1979. Additionally, he has designed sets for many operas and ballets, including the award-winning (1983) Pacific Northwest Ballet production of Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker , Houston Grand Opera's productions of Mozart's The Magic Flute (1981) and Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel (1997), Los Angeles County Music Center's 1990 production of Mozart's Idomeneo, and the New York City Opera's 1981 production of The Cunning Little Vixen.

In the 1990s, Sendak approached playwright Tony Kushner to write a new English version of the Czech composer Hans Krása's children's opera Brundibar. Kushner wrote the text for Sendak's illustrated book of the same name, published in 2003. The book was named one of the New York Times Book Review's 10 Best Illustrated Books of 2003.

In 2003, Chicago Opera Theatre produced Sendak and Kushner's adaptation of Brundibar. In 2005 Berkeley Repertory Theatremarker, in collaboration with Yale Repertory Theatremarker and Broadway's New Victory Theater, produced a substantially reworked version of the Sendak-Kushner adaptation.

He also created the children's television program Seven Little Monsters.


Maurice Sendak is known for drawing inspiration and influences from a vast number of painters, musicians and authors. Going back to his childhood, one of his earliest memorable influences was actually his father, Philip Sendak. According to Maurice, his father would relate tales from the Bible - however, he would embellish them with racy details to jazz them up. Not realising that this was inappropriate for children, little Maurice would frequently be sent home after retelling his father's "softcore Bible tales" at school.

Growing up, Sendak developed other influences, starting with Disney's Fantasia as mentioned earlier. He has been quoted as saying, "My gods are Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson, Mozart. I believe in them with all my heart." Elaborating further, he has explained that reading Emily Dickinson's works helps him to remain calm in an otherwise hectic world: "And I have a little tiny Emily Dickinson so big that I carry in my pocket everywhere. And you just read three poems of Emily. She is so brave. She is so strong. She is such a sexy, passionate, little woman. I feel better." Likewise, of Mozart, he has said, "When Mozart is playing in my room, I am in conjunction with something I can't explain. [...] I don't need to. I know that if there's a purpose for life, it was for me to hear Mozart."

In terms of influencing others, Sendak has been a massive influence over the decades. While his books certainly have roused much controversy, on the other hand they have also charmed scores of parents and children alike with their unique illustrations and lovable characters. Perhaps one of his biggest fans would be Gregory Maguire, author of the hit novel, Wicked. Maguire enjoys Sendak's works so much that he was prompted to write a tributary book dedicated to Sendak's life and accomplishments, titled, Making Mischief: A Maurice Sendak Appreciation. Another famous author who lists Where the Wild Things Are as an early influence is the bestselling author, Jodi Picoult. According to her, the book was one of the first that she had ever read and loved.

Personal life

Sendak mentioned in a September 2008 article in The New York Times that he is gay, and had lived with his partner, psychoanalyst Eugene Glynn for 50 years before Dr. Glynn’s death in May 2007. Revealing that he never told his parents, he said, "All I wanted was to be straight so my parents could be happy. They never, never, never knew." Sendak's relationship with Glynn had been mentioned by other writers before (e.g., Tony Kushner in 2003).

In an interview on NPR's Fresh Air, Sendak said that his depiction of the cooks in In the Night Kitchen (they had Hitler-esque mustaches) and the fact that they tried to cook the boy in their ovens were references to the Holocaust, a subject high in his thoughts especially due to his Jewish heritage.


Sendak chose the Rosenbach Museum & Librarymarker in Philadelphia, PA to be the repository for his work in the early 1970s thanks to shared literary and collecting interests. His collection of nearly 10,000 works of art, manuscripts, books and ephemera, has been the subject of many exhibitions at the Rosenbach, seen by visitors of all ages. Sendak once praised Herman Melville’s writings, saying, “There’s a mystery there, a clue, a nut, a bolt, and if I put it together, I find me.” From May 6, 2008, through May 3, 2009, the Rosenbach presented There’s a Mystery There: Sendak on Sendak. This major retrospective of over 130 pieces pulled from the museum’s vast Sendak collection—the biggest collection of Sendakiana in the world—is the largest and most ambitious exhibition of Sendak’s work ever created and is now a traveling exhibition. It features original artwork, rare sketches, never-before-seen working materials, and exclusive interview footage. The exhibition draws on a total of over 300 objects, providing a unique experience with each set of illustrations.

Exhibition highlights include the following:
  • Original color artwork from books such as Where the Wild Things Are, In the Night Kitchen, The Nutshell Library, Outside Over There, and Brundibar.
  • “Dummy” books filled with lively preliminary sketches for titles like The Sign on Rosie’s Door, Pierre, and Higglety, Pigglety, Pop!
  • Never-before-seen working materials, such as newspaper clippings that inspired Sendak, family portraits, photographs of child models and other ephemera.
  • Rare sketches for unpublished editions of stories such as Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, and other illustrating projects.
  • Unique materials from the Rosenbach collection that relate to Sendak’s work, including an 1853 edition of the tales of the Brothers Grimm, sketches by William Blake, and Herman Melville’s bookcase.
  • Stories told by the illustrator himself on topics like Alice in Wonderland, his struggle to illustrate his favorite novels, hilarious stories of Brooklyn, and the way his work helps him exorcise childhood traumas.

Awards and honors

Maurice Sendak has been honored in North Hollywoodmarker, Californiamarker, where an elementary school (from kindergarten to grade five) has been named after him.




  • Kenny's Window (1956)
  • Very Far Away (1957)
  • The Sign On Rosie's Door (1960)
  • The Nutshell Library (1962)
    • Chicken Soup with Rice (A Book of Months)
    • Alligators All Around (An Alphabet)
    • One Was Johnny (A Counting Book)
    • Pierre (A Cautionary Tale)
  • Where the Wild Things Are (1963)
  • Higglety Pigglety Pop!, Or: There Must be More to Life (1967) ISBN 0-06-028479-X
  • In the Night Kitchen (1970)
  • Ten Little Rabbits: A Counting Book With Mino The Magician (1970)
  • Some Swell Pup or Are You Sure You Want a Dog? (written by Maurice Sendak & Matthew Margolis and illustrated by Maurice Sendak) (1976)
  • Seven Little Monsters (1977)
  • Fantasy Sketches (1981)
  • Outside Over There (1981)
  • Singing Family of the Cumberlands (written by Jean Ritchie)
  • Hector Protector and As I Went Over the Water: Two Nursery Rhymes
  • Caldecott and Co: Notes on Books and Pictures (1988)
  • We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy: Two Nursery Rhymes with Pictures (Harper Collins) (1993)
  • Maurice Sendak's Christmas Mystery (1995) (a box with a Book and a Jigsaw Puzzle)
  • Mommy? (Maurice Sendak's first Pop-up book) (2006) ISBN 0-439-88050-5



  • The Art Of Maurice Sendak (By Selma G. Lanes) (1980)
  • The Art Of Maurice Sendak: From 1980 to the Present (by Tony Kushner) (2003)


  2. Patheos on Maurice Sendak
  3. The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–1999 American Library Association
  5. Maurice Sendak on his father as a literary influence.
  6. Maurice Sendak on his influences
  7. Jodi Picoult on Maurice Sendak as an early influence
  8. NPR interview originally aired 30 October 2003 and repeated 12 September 2008
  9. "Also by Maurice Sendak," Where the Wild Things Are (Harper Trophy 25th Anniversary Edition, 1984)

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