Navigate to News section

Sendak, of ‘Where the Wild Things Are,’ Has Died

Quintessential children’s book author with a dark side

Marc Tracy
May 08, 2012
From the cover of In the Night Kitchen.(Wikipedia)
From the cover of In the Night Kitchen.(Wikipedia)

Maurice Sendak, who helped create childhood for several generations, died yesterday at 83. In the Night Kitchen, Chicken Soup With Rice, and, of course, Where the Wild Things Are are indelible classics that won’t be going anywhere (except maybe onto the e-book devices Sendak told Stephen Colbert loathed). His collaborators have included Art Spiegelman (on this magnificent page), Carole King (who set music to stories like “Pierre” and “One Was Johnny” to create the musical Really Rosie), and Tony Kushner (who wrote the words to 2003’s Brundibar).

Get the picture? Sendak’s life and work are pretty inseparable from his Jewishness, and particularly his dark, cynical inflection of it. “The Holocaust,” he once said, “has run like a river of blood through all my books” (he was born in Brooklyn, but many relatives died in the Shoah). “Childhood is cannibals and psychotics vomiting in your mouth!” he tells Spiegelman in that page.

“In reality,” he continues, “childhood is deep and rich. It’s vital, mysterious, and profound. I remember my own childhood vividly … I know terrible things … But I know I mustn’t let adults know I knew. … It would scare them.”

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.