This Day In Literary History
On June 10th, 1928, the legendary American children's book writer and illustrator Maurice Sendak was born in Brooklyn, New York. The youngest of three children, his parents were Polish Jewish immigrants.
Sendak lost most of his extended family to the Holocaust; his parents were often in a state of grieving. His mother constantly hovered over him to make sure that he was all right. A sickly child, he rarely went outside his apartment. Most of his knowledge of the world came from books.
In 1940, Maurice Sendak, then twelve years old, saw Walt Disney's classic animated feature film Fantasia and decided to become an illustrator. In 1947, when he was just 19, Sendak's first published drawings appeared in a textbook.
The textbook was called Atomics for the Millions, written by Dr. Maxwell Leigh Eidenhoff. From there, Sendak worked as a illustrator for children's books, spending most of the 1950s drawing pictures for the works of other writers. Then he began writing his own stories.
In 1956, Sendak's first book, Kenny's Window, was published. His first sucessful book, The Sign On Rosie's Door, was published in 1960. It would be followed in 1962 by The Nutshell Library, a four-volume set of books.
This classic set included Chicken Soup With Rice (A Book Of Months), Alligators All Around (An Alphabet), One Was Johnny (A Counting Book), and Pierre (A Cautionary Tale). But it was Sendak's next book, Where The Wild Things Are (1963) that became his most famous. It was also controversial.
In Where The Wild Things Are, Max, a young boy wearing a wolf costume, makes mischief around the house and gets sent to bed without supper. In his room, he imagines a mysterious forest growing and goes on an adventure, traveling to the land of the Wild Things - grotesque and fearsome looking monsters.
Max stares them down and becomes the King of all Wild Things, but soon, lonely and homesick, he returns to his room, where he finds his supper waiting for him. Parents complained about the frightening monsters and denounced the book as too scary for children. But it went on to become an all-time children's classic.
In 1973, Where The Wild Things Are was adapted as an animated short film. It would later be adapted as a children's opera and a ballet. In 1983, Disney announced an upcoming animated feature film adaptation, but it didn't get past the planning stage.
The book was adapted as a musical play in 2004. Two years later, the Post Office issued a commemorative stamp. In 2009, Where The Wild Things Are would be adapted as a live-action feature film.
Directed by Spike Jonze, it featured the voices of James Gandolfini, Catherine O'Hara, Forest Whitaker, and Paul Dano as the Wild Things, and in an incredible performance, newcomer Max Records as Max.
The film, which combined first-rate CGI special effects and animatronic puppetry, turned Sendak's 48-page picture book into a brilliant, intriguing, surreal 100-minute psychological study of a disturbed young boy trying to come to terms with his emotional problems.
As in the book, the Wild Things become externalized metaphors for the components of Max's psyche. Sendak loved the movie, as did most critics who praised its "art house" qualities, but many parents derided the film as too dark and too sad for children.
Maurice Sendak's follow-up book, In The Night Kitchen, was published in 1970. It proved to be more controversial than Where The Wild Things Are, but for a different reason. The book told the story of Mickey, a young boy awoken in the night by strange noises.
He finds himself floating in the air and drifts into a strange and surreal world called the Night Kitchen, where he falls into a giant mixing pot full of cake batter. Three lookalike bakers mix the batter, either unaware or unconcerned that a boy is trapped inside their pot.
As the bakers are about to put their cake into a "Mickey oven," the boy escapes and protests that he is not the milk for the batter. Covered in batter, Mickey builds a makeshift airplane out of bread dough.
He flies to the top of a giant milk bottle, and, after washing himself off, pours the milk into the cake batter. The bakers happily finish making their cake. Mickey slides down the bottle and returns to his bed.
In The Night Kitchen was - and still is - controversial for both its bizarre storyline and for the fact that for the most of the story, Mickey runs around naked and is drawn anatomically correct. As a result, the book faced bans and challenges.
It was challenged in several states, including New Jersey, Illinois, Minnesota, and Texas, with reports of school librarians defacing copies of the book by drawing pants on Mickey with markers or using whiteout to cover his genitals, making him appear to be wearing a diaper.
Sendak said that he never intended to be controversial. He had Mickey lose his pajamas to avoid messing them up when he fell into the cake batter. In The Night Kitchen still appears on the American Library Association's (ALA) list of frequently banned or challenged books.
In 1974, Maurice Sendak reworked his books The Sign On Rosie's Door and The Nutshell Library into a rock musical called Really Rosie, with music composed by legendary rock singer-songwriter Carole King.
The character of Rosie was based on a real little girl from Sendak's childhood in Brooklyn who would sing and dance on the stoop of her apartment building. Really Rosie was adapted as classic animated TV special in 1975. Carole King sang all the songs and provided Rosie's voice.
In a 2008 interview in the New York Times, Sendak claimed that there were deliberate references to the Holocaust in In The Night Kitchen. The lookalike bakers had Hitler-like mustaches, and they attempted to bake Mickey in their oven.
He also came out as gay, saying that although he had lived with his partner (Dr. Eugene Glynn, a psychoanalyst) for fifty years, (Glynn died in 2007) his parents never knew that he was gay. "All I wanted was to be straight so my parents could be happy," Sendak said. "They never, never, never knew."
Maurice Sendak died in May of 2012 at the age of 83. His last book, My Brother's Book, was published posthumously in 2013.
Quote Of The Day
"You cannot write for children. They're much too complicated. You can only write books that are of interest to them." - Maurice Sendak
Today's video features Maurice Sendak being interviewed on an episode of University of Washington TV's Upon Reflection in 1991. Enjoy!