Words and Pictures: A Tribute to Maurice Sendak

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This morning, we were heartbroken to hear of the death of Maurice Sendak, who is to our minds one of the best (and grumpiest) authors of all time, children’s or otherwise. Dark and jubilant in equal measure and obviously aware of the captivating hold that strangeness has on children, his life and work brought joy, weirdness, and beautiful art to grownups and kids alike, including this humble books editor, who at a very tender age memorized Outside Over There in its entirety and forced multiple performances on her peers. To celebrate the great author, we’ve collected a few of our favorite illustrations, paired with a few of our favorites of his quotes after the jump. We hope he found his William Blake-esque “yummy death” — we know he made our lives a lot yummier.

“I refuse to lie to children… I refuse to cater to the bullshit of innocence.”

On ebooks: “I hate them. It’s like making believe there’s another kind of sex. There isn’t another kind of sex. There isn’t another kind of book! A book is a book is a book.”

“You cannot write for children… They’re much too complicated. You can only write books that are of interest to them.”

“I mean, I assumed everybody knew little boys had that and that this wasn’t a breakthrough. The fact that people considered that outrageous — incredible. I mean, you go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, you go to the Frick, you go to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and there’s a Christ child with his penis. It’s accepted in fine art, but somehow in books for children, there’s a taboo.

“Well, the hell with that. I mean, I didn’t set out to cause a scandal. I set out to do a very particular work where he had to be naked in order to confront a particular dream he was in. You don’t go into a dream wearing Fruit of the Loom underwear or PJs. You go tuto. You go yourself, your being, and that’s why he was naked, and it was idiocy. It was incredible idiocy what went on over that book for many, many years about Mickey being naked.”

When asked if Spike Jonze’s adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are was too scary for children: “I would tell them to go to hell. That’s a question I will not tolerate… If they can’t handle it, go home. Or wet your pants. Do whatever you like.”

“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.”

“There must be more to life than having everything.”

“Art has always been my salvation. And my gods are Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson, Mozart. I believe in them with all my heart. And when Mozart is playing in my room, I am in conjunction with something I can’t explain — I don’t need to. I know that if there’s a purpose for life, it was for me to hear Mozart. Or if I walk in the woods and I see an animal, the purpose of my life was to see that animal. I can recollect it, I can notice it. I’m here to take note of. And that is beyond my ego, beyond anything that belongs to me, an observer, an observer.”

“We’ve educated children to think that spontaneity is inappropriate. Children are willing to expose themselves to experiences. We aren’t. Grownups always say they protect their children, but they’re really protecting themselves. Besides, you can’t protect children. They know everything.”

“Certainly we want to protect our children from new and painful experiences that are beyond their emotional comprehension and that intensify anxiety; and to a point we can prevent premature exposure to such experiences. That is obvious. But what is just as obvious — and what is too often overlooked — is the fact that from their earliest years children live on familiar terms with disrupting emotions, fear and anxiety are an intrinsic part of their everyday lives, they continually cope with frustrations as best they can. And it is through fantasy that children achieve catharsis. It is the best means they have for taming Wild Things.”

“Children are tough, though we tend to think of them as fragile. They have to be tough. Childhood is not easy. We sentimentalize children, but they know what’s real and what’s not. They understand metaphor and symbol. If children are different from us, they are more spontaneous. Grown-up lives have become overlaid with dross.”

“I’m not Hans Christian Andersen. Nobody’s gonna make a statue in the park with a lot of scrambling kids climbing up me. I won’t have it, okay?”

“I didn’t set out to make children happy, or make life better for them, or easier for them… I like them as few and far between as I do adults. Maybe a bit more more because I really don’t like adults, at all, practically.”

“It was inconceivable to me as a child that I would be an adult. I mean, one assumed that would happen, but obviously it didn’t happen, or if it did, it happened when your back was turned, and then suddenly you were there.”

“I have nothing now but praise for my life. I’m not unhappy. I cry a lot because I miss people. They die and I can’t stop them. They leave me and I love them more. … What I dread is the isolation. … There are so many beautiful things in the world which I will have to leave when I die, but I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready.”