Maurice Sendak, author and illustrator of dozens of popular children’s books, most notably “Where the Wild Things Are,” died on Tuesday at the age of 83 at a hospital in Danbury, Conn., after suffering from a recent stroke.
His admitted obsession with “children and their survival” and the “humongous heroism of children” fueled a career that transformed children’s literature into a medium to address the psychological intensity of growing up.
“The Holocaust has run like a river of blood through all my books,” Sendak once said, explaining that as the child of Jewish immigrants from Poland, the Nazi death camps were never far from his mind.
"My burden is living for those who didn't," he told the Associated Press.
“Where the Wild Things Are,” which was considered an instant classic upon its publication, tells the story of a young boy, Max, who is sent to his room as punishment and imagines a make-believe land with a wild forest and creatures. The book has sold nearly 20 million copies worldwide and been made into a feature film.
President Bill Clinton presented him with the National Medal of Arts in 1996, saying, “His books have helped children to explore and resolve their feelings of anger, boredom, fear, frustration and jealousy.”
Sendak’s greatest achievement was to elevate the picture book “to an individual, contained art form that integrates words and illustration,” said Cathryn M. Mercier, director of the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons College in Boston.
His books have been translated into dozens of languages and have won numerous awards including the Caldecott Medal and the Hans Christian Andersen Award.