It’s a big day for Maurice Sendak–who, sadly, isn’t around to see the celebration of what would’ve been his 85th birthday. A lot of other people are celebrating his life, though. Just check out today’s Google home page for an animated tribute to the American illustrator and writer of children’s books. (Here’s a video version.) It’s no surprise that Google is concentrating on his 1963 classic Where the Wild Things Are, but the prolific Sendak came up with plenty of books that still thrill children today.
Sendak was an exceptional writer with some traditional influences. He was growing up in Brooklyn as the son of immigrant parents when he saw Walt Disney’s Fantasia at the age of twelve. That inspired him to become an illustrator. Sendak was still in his teens when he began to create window displays for the huge toy store F.A.O. Schwartz, and he also began drawing for textbooks. He worked on a lot of children’s books, too, before he decided to try and create his own.
His first big success was with The Nutshell Library–which was really four books that children still adore. Alligators All Around teaches the alphabet, Chicken Soup with Rice is a great way to learn the months of the year, One Was Johnny is about counting, and Pierre is about a little boy who meets a lion and learns that “I don’t care” is never a good answer. That last one is particularly helpful to moms.
And then Sendak wrote Where the Wild Things Are–which is such an amazing and epic story that it’s always a surprise to discover that the book is incredibly brief. All children are entranced by the tale of runaway Max, who runs away, encounters wild animals, and returns home to a nice, hot dinner. (Sendak had to fight his editors to be sure that the dinner was hot; it wouldn’t have been as comforting if the meal had gotten warm.) Sendak based his monsters on drawings that he used to make of the aunts and uncles who used to come over and pinch his cheeks and generally take over his house. Most children could relate to that.
Maurice Sendak kept working right up to his death last year. He certainly left behind a long legacy of memorable books and images. He’s even the man behind the popular Little Bear series. People have loved bringing Sendak’s creations to life, too. Sendak was able to enjoy the big-screen version of Where the Wild Things Are back in 2009, and here’s another vintage video of animated Sendak silliness…