The New York Times reported sad news this morning. Maurice Sendak, the author of Where the Wild Things Are and many other children’s classics, died at the age of 83.
I love his books, and have long admired him. As the Times said,
In book after book, Mr. Sendak upended the staid, centuries-old tradition of American children’s literature, in which young heroes and heroines were typically well scrubbed and even better behaved; nothing really bad ever happened for very long; and everything was tied up at the end in a neat, moralistic bow.
In the Night Kitchen was on my little sister’s bookshelf, and I loved the anarchy of it — the naked little boy off on an adventure with no parent-like grownups around. His illustrations for the Little Bear books by Elsa Holmelund Minarik were wonderful, and his little Nutshell books are perfectly funny and quirky.
I loved, too, his grumpy persona in interviews. He spoke his mind, and never went anywhere near the cutesy or sentimental.
But it is Where the Wild Things Are that has made the biggest impact on me. It strikes me as one of the most perfect children’s books ever written. If you have read it over and over again for years, like I have, his writing becomes more and more beautiful with each reading. The words to Wild Things hang together as a stunning poem, and every time I read them, I bow down before Sendak’s artistry.