Maurice Sendak remembered for dark but engaging children’s classics

May 9, 2012

Maurice Sendak, author of “Where the Wild Things Are” and other children’s classics, was remembered Tuesday for the impact of his beloved work and his outspoken personality.

In an obituary for The Washington Post, Becky Krystal writes:

Sendak characters could be rebellious and downright unpleasant, but in refusing to condescend or act as a balm, his books were also exceedingly popular with young readers for generations. The books showed that even children, confronting a range of often terrifying emotions, could through courage and resourcefulness begin to make sense of the world around them.

In underscoring those emotions and how young people react to them, Mr. Sendak became one of the most critically revered and entrancing writers of his era.

Sendak’s books were unusually dark and serious for the genre, writes critic Michael Dirda.

In our time, no major picture-book artist has been quite so daring, so utterly insouciant about pushing hard against the limits of his genre as Maurice Sendak. One might safely say that virtually all of his finest books were initially criticized, and sometimes gleefully savaged, as being wholly inappropriate for children. The minotaurs and giant, muscle-bound roosters of “Where the Wild Things Are” looked like kiddie nightmares come alive; Mickey of “In the Night Kitchen” offended with his nudity and his story, which in part suggested a bizarre allegory of the Holocaust; in “Outside Over There” the text and the almost Masonically symbolic pictures seemed too literary, too inbred, too complex, too adult.

But, of course, that was the point. There’s darkness and violence and complexity throughout Sendak, just as there is throughout the fairy tales of Grimm and Andersen, just as there is in life. Sendak’s work allows children to come to terms with their fears and nightmares. The Wild Things can be tamed, turned into big teddy bears, no longer frightening monsters of the id.

A story from the AP collects comments from parents and young readers that illustrate how Sendak’s books have become part of their evening rituals.

One of the great pleasures of having children, said dad William Webb in Memphis, Tenn., is happily losing yourself in the books you loved while also discovering new nuggets, like Sendak’s “Pierre: A Cautionary Tale in Five Chapters and a Prologue.”

That’s a long title for a tiny book included in Sendak’s Nutshell box set and also published as a standalone. No matter what his parents say, sour-faced Pierre just “doesn’t care,” not even when a lion gobbles him up, then falls ill for his trouble only to spit him out in one piece at the end.

“It makes us laugh,” said Webb, who has two boys ages 4 and 2. “That’s my older son’s favorite part, when he comes out of the lion and learns that he really does care after all.”

Joshua Steen in Corinth, Miss., has a fan in 2-year-old daughter, Lucy. “She especially loves the ‘Wild Things,’ and she’ll growl and howl at the moon. Sendak’s illustrations really have a life of their own. He makes learning to use your imagination so much easier.”

Related stories:

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ComPost: Maurice Sendak and childhood — we ate it up, we loved it

Maurice Sendak on Stephen Colbert: Literature’s favorite grump

Maurice Sendak remembered: Six tweets about the ‘Wild Things’ author that will make you teary

Maurice Sendak: A singular voice to and for children

Maurice Sendak dies: Obama, others read “Where the Wild Things Are”

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KidsPost: Remembering Maurice Sendak

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