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Maurice Sendak created lavish fantasy in 'Where the Wild Things Are'

Maurice Sendak created lavish fantasy in 'Where the Wild Things Are'
Author and illustrator Maurice Sendak with a self-portrait. He would've been 85 today. (Los Angeles Times)

On Monday, Google saluted beloved children's book author Maurice Sendak with a Google Doodle. It would have been Sendak's 85th birthday.

Sendak is best remembered for his book "Where the Wild Things Are," published in 1963. The story of Max, a cranky boy who imagines his way into a wild, sometimes frightening world beyond his bedroom walls, won the Caldecott Medal for children's picture book. It was later made into a film and brought to life onstage as an opera.

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Sendak wrote and illustrated 20 books, including "The Nutshell Library" (1962), "In the Night Kitchen" (1970) and "Outside Over There" (1981). He illustrated about 80 more. Later in life, he designed sets for a number of operas.

"The genius of the work, however, is that this triggers a lavish fantasy in which walls, floor and ceiling fall away, leaving Max to navigate a landscape far more exotic and dangerous than the one he's left behind," wrote L.A. Times book critic David L. Ulin. "Part of the sweetness of the book -- and it is a sweet book, with Max literally conquering his demons before being beckoned back 'into the night of his very own room' by the smell, from 'far away across the world,' of 'good things to eat' — comes from its toughness, its understanding that, even as kids, we are on our own."

Much of Sendak's work was originally considered controversial. "In the Night Kitchen" included one drawing of a little boy falling through the air naked; "Where the Wild Things Are" was thought by some to be too dark for young readers.

"My childhood was completely misshapen by what was going on in the world," Sendak told National Public Radio in 2005. His father's finances were devastated by the 1929 stock market crash, and many of his extended family perished in concentration camps during World War II.

"I don't write for children.... I write," Sendak told Stephen Colbert in a rollickingly profane 2012 interview (Part 1, Part 2). "And somebody says, 'That's for children.' I didn't set out to make children happy. Or make life better for them, or easier for them."

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