JUNE 10:

  • Happy birthday Aranka Siegal (Memories of Babi, Upon the Head of A Goat: A Childhood in Hungary 1939-1944), and Charlotte Herman (My Chocolate Year, Max Malone Makes a Million).
  • It’s the birth date of Chap Reaver (1935-1993), Bill.
  • In 1829, the first boat race between the universities of Cambridge and Oxford takes place in England. Read Busytown Boat Race by Richard Scarry.
  • It’s National Iced Tea Day. Read Ice by Sarah Beth Durst, Ice by Arthur Geisert, Ice by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, Ice Magic by Matt Christopher, Miss Spider’s Tea Party by David Kirk, and The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr.

Today marks the birthday of someone who might best be described as the father of the American picture book—or, probably today, its grandfather. When Maurice Sendak published his masterpiece, Where the Wild Things Are, in 1963, he changed the scope and the possibilities of the picture book for every artist to come after him. He gave shape to the imagination and fantasies of children, and he became the friend of millions of young readers who knew he completely understood them.

In all of his books, Sendak explored his own inner landscape, one that is idiosyncratic and personal. Because of his honesty and because he never forgot the feelings and emotions of childhood, children can completely identify with his characters. As Sendak once wrote, “children live on familiar terms with disrupting emotions….They continually cope with frustration as best they can. And it is through fantasy that children achieve catharsis. It is the best means they have for taming Wild Things.”

In almost sixty years of creating books, from his first written by Ruth Krauss, A Hole Is to Dig, to his last book BUMBLE-ARDY, Sendak sought to portray something other than the “All-American, white-toothed” kids found so prevalently in children’s books. His models were the children he saw in the streets of Brooklyn, where he grew up and lived—immigrants from Poland and other countries, squat, solid, individual beings. Sendak has fashioned one remarkable book after another, including his illustrations for The Juniper Tree and Other Tales from Grimm, translated by Lore Segal and Randall Jarrell, the best volume of Grimm published for children.

After illustrating more than fifty books, in November of 1955 Sendak began his own story, initially called “Where the Wild Horses Are.” Unfortunately, he couldn’t draw horses and had to find another subject. Then the phrase “Wild Things” came to him. Sendak threw memories of King Kong into the story cauldron. As he drew and redrew his creatures, the skinny beings gained weight and density. In the resulting story the hero Max rages against his mother for being sent to bed without supper. Max’s bedroom becomes a forest where he meets, tames, and becomes king of the Wild Things. Through his fantasy, Max works out his anger against his mother and returns to the real world, at peace with himself.

Sendak uses a mere 338 words to tell the story; the pictures, which allow children to build their own fantasy, fill in the rest of the narrative. As Max’s emotions swell, the art takes up more and more space on the page, until the center, a double-page spread where he parades as king of the Wild Things. Sendak’s editor for the book, Ursula Nordstrom, always said that he created art with the “hand of God.” Winner of the Caldecott Medal in 1964, recently adapted for a movie, Where the Wild Things Are has become part of the American conscience, the birthright of every child.

When Maurice died this year, the media was filled with praise for his work and stories about his impact on the lives of readers of all ages. When it cane to picture books, he had no equal; he was in a class by himself.

Here’s a page from The Juniper Tree:

And then there was a sort of mist coming out of the tree and right in this mist it burned like fire and out of the fire flew this lovely bird that sang oh, so gloriously sweet and flew high into the air and when it was gone the juniper tree was just the way it had always been.

Originally posted June 10, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Adventure, Award Winning, Caldecott, Family, Imagination


  1. Sarah says:

    Here’s a link to my fave: Higglety Pigglety Pop!: Or There Must Be More to Life

    This is such a dark and twisted tale – another dream-story – in which Jenny the dog ventures forth to find the meaning of her life.

  2. Ancient Editor says:

    One of my personal favorites is Outside Over There, which touches me deeply. Didn’t know all this about Wild Things. Thanks so much.

  3. Happy 83rd to one of my few heroes. May Maurice Sendak live forever!

  4. suzi w. says:

    Happy 83rd!! My favorites are Where the Wild Things Are and all of the lyrics he wrote for “Really Rosie,” especially “Pierre,” which I’m pretty sure is one of the Nutshell library books.

    And yes, how fitting that it is Nat’l Ice Tea day. I think I’ll have some at lunch to celebrate…

  5. Carol Sibley says:

    Every time I teach “Where the Wild Things Are” to preservice teachers, I am amazed at the new discoveries made by the students . The book is incredibly rich. There is always more to notice. Fans of Maurice Sendak may enjoy a new DVD about him: “Tell Them Anything You Want: A Portrait of Maurice Sendak.”

  6. Tobin says:

    Anita! Thank you for celebrating the master on your wonderful blog! What a man he is!

    Were you there at Lesley U. when Mr. Sendak spoke a few years ago? It was a wonderful, very personal speech, in which he talked about another genesis for the Wild Things: His own Yiddish relatives when he was a small boy, who he remembered peering down at him, pinching him, clutching him, and crooning, “You’re so adorable we’ll eat you up!” At age five (or whatever) he took them seriously.

    I had a friend who sang the role of one of the Wild Things in Oliver Knussen’s opera based on the book. The Wild Things, as I remember it, are a kind of atonal barber-shop trio who sing a wonderful flurry of half-words and nonsense syllables — which, in Mr. Sendak’s libretto, are often hacked up Yiddishisms. It restores to an adult audience that feeling the young Sendak must have had of these towering, equivocal beings who roar a half-known language.

    My friend, who was staying with me while the opera was staged, stomped around my apartment bellowing at everyone, “Yumyumyum! Eat you up!”

    Not what you want to hear from a houseguest. I made sure to put out extra breakfast.



  7. Anita says:

    Tobin: I was at MIT for, I believe, his Arbuthnot, a few years ago. An amazing speaker always.

    Thanks everyone for the comments.

  8. Yes, the perfect picture book in every way.
    Just how perfect I learned from my then 3 year old son who was sent to his room for some now forgotten misdeed. After a few minutes I heard the door open, “Not yet!” I yelled, to which he replied in an earnest, hopeful voice, “Oh, I’m not ready yet, Mommy. But when does the forest start to grow?” One of my all time favorite memories. Happy Birthday, Maurice and thank you!

  9. suzi w. says:

    I can vouch for Carol, the DVD on Maurice Sendak is wonderful. Such a different view of the man.

  10. It’s impossible to pick a favorite. My eldest looked so like a Sendak character when he cried when he was small. He’s fifteen & he still kind of does.

  11. Beth says:

    In the last week I’ve been re-reading a collection of lectures given by MS, Stephen Greenblatt and others at Berkeley about 10 years ago exploring, among other things, how childhood trauma informed Sendak’s work. Despite the grim premise, Sendak’s humour, erudition and generosity of spirit really shine through. Happy birthday, Mr Sendak!

  12. Erin says:

    I chose the story for my Picturebook project from The Juniper Tree. Using only 4 colors and 5 pages of construction paper, I told the story of Mrs. Gertrude.

  13. suzi w. says:

    Anita, thank you.

    this man’s life touched mine in so many ways…I think mostly through the Really Rosie songs and the nutshell library. A friend of mine and I when we are upset send each other lyrics from Really Rosie back and forth on Twitter. Our favorite line “I can tap across the TappanZee” has created a new form of “twitter cupcake,” the TappanZee Cupcake.

    He lived with such a strange dignity. And I MUST get my hands on the Juniper Tree.

    happy 84th to a man we will always remember.


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