"Night Kitchen's" illustrations were a "farewell to New York," Sendak said, as he relocated to Connecticut in search of a quieter life.
Much of his work was influenced by his nightmarish recollections of a childhood that he once recalled as "D-A-R-K."
Maurice Bernard Sendak was born June 10, 1928, in Brooklyn and grew up there. He was the youngest of three children of Philip and Sadie Sendak, Polish Jews who emigrated to the U.S. just before World War I.
A sickly child, Sendak spent a great deal of time drawing, and his dressmaker father often told him elaborate bedtime stories.
His father lost most of the family fortune in the stock market crash of 1929, and many of his relatives died in the Holocaust.
"My childhood was completely misshapen by what was going on in the world," Sendak, a guilt-plagued worrier, said on National Public Radio in 2005.
At 9, he started writing stories with his brother, Jack. His sister, Natalie, took Sendak to see his first Walt Disney film, which led to a lifelong fascination with Mickey Mouse.
In high school, he was an indifferent student who worked on backgrounds for comic strips such as Mutt and Jeff. He had a comic in the school newspaper and illustrated a physics textbook for a teacher.
After graduating in 1946, Sendak worked for a window-display company. Two years later, he built mechanical wooden toys that his brother, an engineer, designed. Impressed by his creativity, FAO Schwarz executives hired Sendak as a window dresser.
His work caught the eye of noted children's book editor Ursula Nordstrom, who hired him to illustrate the 1951 Marcel Ayme book "The Wonderful Farm" and became his mentor.
Nordstrom arranged for him to illustrate "A Hole Is to Dig," a whimsical 1952 book of childhood definitions by Ruth Krauss that established Sendak as an illustrator.
To make a living, he illustrated about 20 books in a few years and learned to draw in a variety of styles. He admitted that he owed an artistic debt to classic Victorian book illustrators but said that most of his original work was influenced by his Brooklyn childhood.
"Night Kitchen" and "Wild Things," Sendak wrote in 1971, "reflect a popular American art both crass and oddly surrealistic, an art that encompasses the Empire State Building, syncopated Disney cartoons and aluminum-clad comic-book heroes, an Art Moderne whose richness of detail was ... cataloged in the movies."
As a teenager gazing out his apartment window, he saw a brash 9-year-old girl named Rosie, who orchestrated elaborate dramas with her friends. His drawings of her became the framework for his 1960 book "The Sign on Rosie's Door."
Working with singer-songwriter Carole King, Sendak pulled from "The Nutshell Library" and turned Rosie's story into the animated television special "Really Rosie" in 1975.
It was developed into an off-Broadway play in 1980 and became a staple of the Night Kitchen Theatre, a national children's theater group that Sendak helped start in 1990.
An opera fanatic, Sendak was dumbfounded when innovative opera director Frank Corsaro — long a fan of "Wild Things" — asked him to design costumes for a 1980 Houston Grand Opera production of Mozart's "The Magic Flute."
Critics called Sendak's resulting set designs "sumptuous" with intriguing undertones of foreboding.
Over the next decade, he designed sets for about 10 operas, including writing lyrics and designing costumes for his own "Where the Wild Things Are," a 45-minute opera that premiered in Belgium in 1980.
He worked on the sets for the stage and 1986 film version of "The Nutcracker" and designed for "Idomeneo," a Mozart opera staged in 1990 at the Los Angeles Music Center. When playwright Tony Kushner adapted the children's opera "Brundibar" into a picture book in 2003, Sendak drew the illustrations.
Sendak said he didn't particularly want to make a "Wild Things" movie, but told Entertainment Weekly in 2003 "that's all anybody wanted from me."
When an imaginative film adaptation of "Wild Things," directed by Spike Jonze, was released in 2009, Sendak was pleased that it was not seen as a film for children.
"It's not cute and cuddly! It's a real movie," Sendak told The Times.
For 50 years, he shared his life with Dr. Eugene Glynn, a psychoanalyst who died in 2007. Sendak had no immediate survivors.
A lifelong insomniac, he kept a strict regimen that included a lengthy dog walk. At his death, he had a German shepherd named Herman for Sendak's favorite author, Melville.
Of his ability to easily relate to children even though he was not surrounded by them, he once said: "We've all passed the same places. Only I remember the geography, and most people forget it."