Widely considered one of the most influential children’s books authors and stand-alone illustrators, Maurice Sendak has probably earned that honor many times over in his career. Born in Brooklyn in 1928, his first published work appears in 1947’s Atomics for the Millions by Dr. Maxwell Leigh Eidenoff. Atomics is really just a textbook with accompanying drawings, but it began a career that can accurately be described as legendary.
Of course, Sendak is known mainly for Where the Wild Things are, published in 1963. I also fondly remember his Chicken Soup With Rice book and the Little Bear series that he illustrated, as well as the fabulous In the Night Kitchen (which has the silly honor of being one of the only children’s picture books regularly banned by libraries and school curriculums for its depiction of a naked boy as the main character).
Up-close, his pencil and watercolor drawings are about as fine as you can get for any artist and they’re simply magnificent. Never one for sparse pictures, his images are lush and incredibly vivid. His pictures fill the page and there’s always something new to find.
For whatever reason, I was not instantly drawn to Sendak’s work as a collector. I think maybe I took his work for granted (it’s a little ubiquitous) and maybe I didn’t realize that he has published scores of books and illustrated many more. However, I was hooked after attending a travelling exhibit at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco Jewish Museum in 2009 and then visiting the Rosenbach Museum in Philadelphia this summer (Sendak has donated all of his work not currently floating around in galleries and collector’s homes to the Rosenbach).
Though his work is visually stunning, there is even a more astounding depth to it that I had to read about to understand. Like millions of other people around the globe, Sendak was utterly affected by the Jewish Holocaust. It’s a subject that appears again and again in his works, even though it may not be specifically mentioned. I picked up a signed copy of Dear Mili recently and was transfixed by the story. Originally written by Wilhem Grimm, Sendak creates illustrations that transcend a story of the obstacles one little girl must overcome during a time of great way to be reunited to her mother. Through his lines, Grimm’s story becomes just as much about the Holocaust as it is a simple fairy tale. For a much more in-depth look at it, read the Publishers Weekly review on Dear Mili’s Amazon.com page.
There’s so much more to say about Sendak. It’s impossible to add it all in here. I won’t even attempt links, since he isn’t hard to find at all online.