Maurice Sendak’s cultural influence was enormous. Generally considered the leading children’s book writer of the past century, his books were touchstones of youth for the generation born after 1960. His Nutshell Library was a staple of my childhood and is now savored by my children. Born in Brooklyn in 1928, the son of Polish Jewish immigrant parents, Sendak was most famous for a dozen picture books he both wrote and illustrated, most notably 1963’s Where the Wild Things Are and 1970’s In The Night Kitchen.
His books were frequently controversial, with critics complaining about the horrifying monsters in Wild Things and the nudity of the young hero of Night Kitchen, which was subjected to repeated efforts at censorship. But Sendak was undeterred, arguing that life is full of horrors and that children are not immune to the realities of loneliness and confusion.
Sendak’s appearance on The Colbert Report last year shows what a treasure he was. On topics from sex to censorship to celebrity to Newt Gingrich, his cutting, common-sense sensibility makes clear why his work was so wildly popular and enduring. RIP.