TTLG Author/Illustrator Profiles

Maurice Sendak

Maurice Sendak

Maurice Sendak was born in 1928 in Brooklyn, New York. He was the youngest of three children, each born five years apart. His Jewish family had immigrated to the United States from Poland before World War I and were to lose many of their relatives to the Holocaust during World War II
His father was a wonderful storyteller, and Maurice grew up enjoying his father's imaginative tales and gaining a lifelong appreciation for books. Sendak's early years were influenced by his sickliness, his hatred of school, and the war. However, from an early age, he knew he wanted to be an illustrator.
While still attending high school, he became an illustrator for All-American Comics. Sendak subsequently worked as a window dresser for F.A.O. Schwartz, a well-known toy store in New York City.
Who would have thought then that Maurice Sendak would go on to become one of the most influential, and controversial, creators of children's books in the twentieth century. Happily for us, Sendak began to illustrate children's books after meeting Ursula Nordstrom, a children's book editor at Harper and Brothers. The first was "The Wonderful Farm" by Marcel Ayme, which was published in 1951 when Sendak was 23 years old. By the time he was 34, Sendak had written and illustrated seven books and illustrated 43 others.
With the publication of "Where the Wild Things Are" Maurice Sendak's work earned both acclaim and controversy. As he went on to create other popular books and characters, there seemed to be two schools of thought. Some people felt that his stories were too dark and disturbing for children. The majority view was that Sendak, through his work, had pioneered a completely new way of writing and illustrating for, and about, children.
In his book, "Angels and Wild Things: The Archetypal Poetics of Maurice Sendak," John Cech, Professor of English at the University of Florida and a past president of the Children's Literature Association, wrote, "Indeed, without Sendak, an enormous void would exist in contemporary American (and, for that matter, international) children's books. One can only try to imagine what the landscape of children's literature would be like without Sendak's fantasies and the characters and places visited in them. These fantasies essentially broke through the relatively unperturbed surfaces of postwar American children's literature, sending his children - Rosie, Max, Mickey, Jennie, Ida - on journeys into regions of the psyche that children's books had not dared visit before." That these journeys have been embraced by countless other children's authors and their audiences since Sendak's seminal works is apparent when you look at the children's books presently being published.
Since the first book he illustrated in 1951, Maurice Sendak has illustrated or written and illustrated over 90 books. The list of awards presented to him is too long to include in full. Sendak received the 1964 Caldecott Medal for "Where the Wild Things Are" and the Hans Christian Andersen International Medal in 1970 for his body of children's book illustration, He was the recipient of the American Book Award in 1982 for "Outside Over There." In 1983, he received the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for his contributions to children's literature. In 1996, Sendak was honored by the President of the United States with the National Medal of Arts. In 2003, Maurice Sendak and Austrian author Christine Noestlinger shared the first Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award for Literature.

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