An illustrators' job is to interpret the
text as a musical conductor interprets a score.*
These are the words of the most well-known and loved author and illustrator
of children's books of our time: Maurice Sendak. His most popular work
is Where The Wild Things Are. In 1964 it received a Caldecott
Medal for most distinguished picture book of the year, and has become
For more than forty years, the books that Maurice Sendak has written
and illustrated have nurtured children and adults alike and have challenged
established ideas about what children's literature is and should be.
Having never lost touch with the child within himself, he refers to
how children are a dominant theme in his work: "My great curiosity [is]
about childhood as a state of being, and how all children manage to
get through childhood from one day to the next, how they defeat boredom,
fear, pain and anxiety and find joy. It is a constant miracle to me
that children manage to grow up."*
Maurice Sendak was born in Brooklyn on June 10, 1928, the youngest
of the three children of Jewish immigrants, Sarah and Philip Sendak.
From a very early age, he knew that he wanted to be an illustrator,
or to be involved with books in some way. Books were his friends and
were very much alive to him. An early source of inspiration for his
work and love of books was his father who often told imaginative stories
to him and his brother and sister This made a lasting impression on
the children who wrote and illustrated and bound their own story books.
As a child Maurice was very frail and often ill and over-protected.
He once commented, "Whenever I wanted to go out to do something, my
father would say, ‘You'll catch a cold.' And I did. I did whatever he
told me." * Maurice very much disliked school and was not adept
at sports. He soon developed a talent for observing and recording life
outside his window.
During high school he worked on the yearbook and literary magazine
and created a comic strip for the school newspaper about life in the
classroom called Pinky Carr. He also worked on the famous comic
strip Mutt and Jeff creating background details.
He graduated from high school in 1946, and because he had little formal
art training, he considered himself lucky to acquire a full-time job
at Timely Service, a Manhattan window display company. He later worked
for F.A.O. Schwartz as an assistant constructor of window displays for
It was during this time that Maurice was introduced to the great children's
editor Ursula Nordstrom. She was impressed with his work and gave him
a chance to illustrate a collection of tales. At the age of twenty-three,
his career took off. Since that time, his more than eighty books have
sold over seven million copies worldwide and are available in a dozen
Music is a great stimulus in Sendak's work. He has always been drawn
toward projects that link his art to music. During the late 1970's,
he was offered an opportunity to do that, fulfilling a dream of a lifetime.
Director Frank Corsaro asked Sendak to work with him on the staging
of operas. The team worked on several operas together, including two
of Mozart's operas: Idomeneo for Los Angeles Opera and THE
MAGIC FLUTE for Houston Grand Opera. Sendak designed spectacular
sets and costumes.
Maurice Sendak has always had a particular fondness for the music of
Mozart. While working on his book Outside Over There (1981),
he listened to Mozart and, at the end of his book, paid special homage
to him. As the character Ida is going through the woods, a cottage is
seen in the distance. The silhouetted figure sitting inside is none
other than Mozart, writing and composing THE MAGIC FLUTE.
Mr. Sendak has turned his talents towards other performing arts as
well including ballet and animated television specials based on his
books. He has written the libretti for operas based on two of his own
stories: Where The Wild Things Are and Higglety Pigglety Pop!
He is also the Artistic Director of a national children's theatre, THE
NIGHT KITCHEN, allowing him to combine all of his artistic passions.
Maurice Sendak currently lives in Ridgefield, Connecticut and spends
a great deal of time with his three dogs: Erda, Agamemnon and Io. His
studio is at one end of his house. He lives a secluded life with a carefully
structured day avoiding distractions so that he can work without interruptions,
obsessed with continuing to communicate his visions to the world.
* Lanes, Selma G. The Art of Maurice Sendak.
NY: Abradale Press/Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1980.
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