Maurice Sendak’s rare book collection is subject of new lawsuit

The book collection of Maurice Sendak, author of "Where the Wild Things Are," is the subject of a lawsuit.
(Mary Altaffer / Associated Press)

Maurice Sendak was the author of the beloved children’s books “Where the Wild Things Are,” “In the Night Kitchen,” “Chicken Soup with Rice” and many more. The author and illustrator, who could be delightfully gruff (see his not-safe-for-work interview with Stephen Colbert), passed away in 2012 at age 84.

In his will, he directed his rare book collection and items of his personal work be gifted to the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia, and they haven’t been, according to a lawsuit filed by the museum last week.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Sendak’s relationship with the museum dates to the 1960s, when he began placing his work there on deposit. He was at times a board member and its honorary president. The museum presented dozens of shows of his work.

“According to the suit, the Sendak trustees have turned over fewer than half the hundreds of items in Sendak’s rare-book collection,” the Inquirer reports. “In fact, the estate has told the Rosenbach it had no intention of transferring ownership of several extremely valuable volumes by Peter Rabbit author Beatrix Potter because they are children’s books, not rare books, the suit states. The Rosenbach calls that reasoning not only faulty but rife with irony: Sendak argued that divisions between adult and children’s literature were invalid - in his work as well as that of others. He called Potter’s works ‘the literary equivalent of the greatest English prose writers that have lived.’”


The suit was filed in Connecticut, where Sendak lived. There are tentative plans to establish a museum and study center there. The Inquirer reports that many of the items left in the Rosenbach’s care are intended to support that museum. “But his will directed the estate and Rosenbach to reach a deal whereby the museum would continue to display many items,” the Inquirer writes, “Such a deal, long expected, has not been reached.”

The lawsuit asks the probate court to compel individuals who overlap as executors of Sendak’s estate and officers of the Maurice Sendak Foundation to carry out Sendak’s wishes.

Sendak’s executors have a Christie’s auction scheduled for Jan. 21. The auction, titled “The World of Maurice Sendak: Artist, Author, Connoisseur,” has not yet released the items to be offered for sale. Sendak’s estate has said that none of the items in question will be auctioned.

Separately from its lawsuit, the museum has sought a court order barring the executors from transferring, disposing or distributing any books until the dispute is resolved.


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