Maurice Sendak, author of ‘Where the Wild Things Are,’ dies at 83
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Maurice Sendak, the children’s book illustrator and author whose unsentimental approach to storytelling revolutionized the genre and whose best-known tale was the dark fantasy “Where the Wild Things Are,” has died. He was 83.
Sendak, who also was a set designer for opera and film, died Tuesday at a hospital in Danbury, Conn., his friend and caretaker Lynn Caponera said. He had suffered a stroke on Friday, she said.
He had already been proclaimed “the Picasso of children’s books” by Time magazine when, in his 30s, he wrote and illustrated “Where the Wild Things Are.” It became one of the 10 bestselling children’s books of all time.
The work, published in 1963, was a startling departure from the sweetness and innocence that ruled children’s literature. “Wild Things” tapped into the fears of childhood and sent its main character — an unruly boy in a wolf costume — into a menacing forest to tame the wild beasts of his imagination.
Librarians banned the book as too frightening. Psychologists and many adults condemned it for being too dark. But a 1964 Los Angeles Times review echoed many critics: The “aggressive flight of fantasy” was “the best thing of its kind in many a year.”
By then, “Wild Things” had won the Caldecott Medal for most distinguished American picture book for children. The author began receiving mail from young fans captivated by the grinning monsters Sendak said he modeled after the obnoxious relatives who populated the Sundays of his youth.
One boy wrote to ask: “How much does it cost to get to where the wild things are? If it is not expensive, my sister and I would like to spend the summer there.”
When President Obama read from “Wild Things” to children at the White House Easter egg roll in 2009, he called it one of his favorite books.
Sendak bristled at the notion that he was an author of children’s books and told People magazine in 2003 that he wrote stories “about human emotion and life.”
“They’re pigeonholed as children’s books but the best ones aren’t — they’re just books,” he said.
A full obituary will follow at latimes.com/obits.
-- Valerie J. Nelson