Happy 85th, Maurice Sendak

By Ellen Wexler — June 13, 2013 2 min read
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When Where the Wild Things Are author Maurice Sendak was asked what makes a good kids’ story, he said, “How would I know? I just write the books.”

Well, Maurice Sendak, most of us are rather pleased with the way you’ve “just written the books.” This week marks the author’s 85th birthday, and the internet has taken up the task of paying tribute in a variety of creative ways:

PBS’s Blank on Blank web series animated a 2009 Newsweek interview with Sendak. In the interview, Sendak discusses the origin of the monsters from Where the Wild Things Are: “The monsters were based on relatives. They came from Europe, and they came on weekends to eat, and my mom had to cook ... They grabbed you and twisted your face, and they thought that was an affectionate thing to do. And I knew that my mother’s cooking was pretty terrible, and it also took forever, and there was every possibility that they would eat me, or my sister or my brother.”

The Huffington Post staff compiled a list of their favorite Sendak quotes. Highlights include:
•"I believe there is no part of our lives, our adult as well as child life, when we’re not fantasizing, but we prefer to relegate fantasy to children, as though it were some tomfoolery only fit for the immature minds of the young. Children do live in fantasy and reality; they move back and forth very easily in a way we no longer remember how to do.”
•"I don’t write for children. I write, and somebody says, ‘That’s for children.’”
•"I’m totally crazy, I know that. I don’t say that to be a smartass, but I know that that’s the very essence of what makes my work good. And I know my work is good. Not everybody likes it, that’s fine. I don’t do it for everybody. Or anybody. I do it because I can’t not do it.”

Google honored the author’s birthday with an elaborate Google Doodle. In the animation, 16 of Sendak’s characters parade through their stories until finally reaching a birthday cake (see a screen grab, below). Google notes that his accomplishments aren’t limited to children’s books and Sendak also created television shows and designed opera and ballet sets.

The Guardian writer Richard Lea, however, criticized the Google animation for being too cheerful. In reality, Lea writes, there’s a fundamental element of darkness in Sendak’s works, which are “equal measures of mayhem and merriment, with danger as well as delight ... And surely this is the secret of Sendak’s genius, this combination of rage and wonder and childish delight.”

Even the White House had something to say about the children’s author:

A version of this news article first appeared in the BookMarks blog.