He was a crank, and had the eyebrows to prove it. He was a genius, and had the sales to prove it. With a distinctive style and dynamic voice, Sendak was truly one of the greatest illustrators of the 20th century. In turns his work was charming, funny, uncomfortable, inspiring, and thrilling. He did not shy away from the terrors of childhood, and yet, with his fantastic illustrations, he gave children the ability to imagine life beyond the monsters. He drew from all sorts of sources, including The Brothers Grimm, old Russian folk tales, the silly definitions of childhood, and stolid, boring manners books, transforming each subject and story into rich drawings that have shaped the imaginations of generations of children.
Here is, by far, the best quote from Maurice Sendak, and it perfectly captures his spirit, I think:
"Once a little boy sent me a charming card with a little drawing on it. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters — sometimes very hastily — but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, “Dear Jim: I loved your card.” Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, “Jim loved your card so much he ate it.” That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it."Requiescat in pace, Maurice Sendak.
ILLUSTRATION: From my very favorite Sendak book, What Do You Do Dear? The caption from this page reads: "You are a terrible pirate making a fine lady walk the plank, but when the lady turns to wave farewell to you, she drops her handkerchief. What do you do, dear?" (The next panel reads "Pick up the handkerchief for the lady.") See all my Maurice Sendak reviews here.
READ MORE: NY Times // Guardian slideshow and roundup of literary homages // NPR // WSJ // NYRB // Children's Illustration // The Animalarium // Fuse 8 // Seven Impossible Things // Roger Sutton for Horn Book // VKMKL lists all her Sendak reviews // The Rosenbach Museum (which holds his work in their collection) has a fitting tribute // Letters of Note // Vanity Fair profile from 2011 // The Colbert Report