Tag Archives: National Medal of the Arts

Jew of the Week: Maurice Sendak

Where the Wild Things Are

Maurice Bernard Sendak (1928-2012) was born in Brooklyn to Polish-Jewish immigrants. He fell in love with books during a lengthy childhood illness, and after watching Disney’s Fantasia at age 12, decided to become an illustrator. Skipping college, Sendak first did illustrations for toy store windows before having his art published in a textbook. He then devoted himself to illustrating children’s books, including many Jewish themed ones like Good Shabbos Everybody. (Sendak once noted that one of his greatest inspirations was his father’s telling of stories from the Torah.) By the late 1950’s, he started writing his own children’s books. His most famous work came in 1963, and made Sendak a household name. Where the Wild Things Are was very controversial when first published, criticized for its edgy theme and “dark” illustrations. Sendak attributed this to his own difficult childhood, having lost many family members in the Holocaust. Nonetheless, the book became hugely popular, and went on to sell over 20 million copies worldwide. It has since been adapted into a Hollywood film and even an opera, and has been ranked as the best picture book of all time. All in all, Sendak authored 22 books, illustrated 90 more, and wrote, directed, or produced seven films. He saw himself not as a children’s author, but an “author who told the truth about children”. Sendak won many awards, including the National Medal of the Arts, and the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Award for “lasting contribution to children’s literature”. Sendak donated $1 million to New York’s Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, and left his precious collection of over 10,000 artworks, books, and manuscripts to be turned into a museum and library. He was a humble man, and avoided book signings because he “couldn’t stand the thought of parents dragging children to wait in line for hours to see a little old man in thick glasses.” After his passing of a stroke at age 83, The New York Times hailed him as “the most important children’s book artist of the 20th century.”

Words of the Week

It’s a Jewish way of getting through life. You acknowledge what is spectacular and beautiful and also you don’t close your eyes to the pain and the difficulty.
– playwright Tony Kushner, on Maurice Sendak’s books.