DANBURY, Conn. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Maurice Sendak, the children’s book author and illustrator who saw the sometimes-dark side of childhood in books like “Where the Wild Things Are” and “In the Night Kitchen,” died early Tuesday. He was 83 and lived in Ridgefield, Conn.
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Longtime friend and live-in caretaker Lynn Caponera said she was with Sendak when he died at about 2:45 a.m. Tuesday at Danbury Hospital. She said Sendak suffered a stroke Friday night and never regained consciousness.
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“Where the Wild Things Are” earned Sendak a prestigious Caldecott Medal for the best children’s book of 1964 and became a hit movie in 2009. President Bill Clinton awarded Sendak a National Medal of the Arts in 1996 for his vast portfolio of work.
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Sendak didn’t limit his career to a safe and successful formula of conventional children’s books, though it was the pictures he did for wholesome works such as Ruth Krauss’ “A Hole Is To Dig” and Else Holmelund Minarik’s “Little Bear” that launched his career.
“Where the Wild Things Are,” about a boy named Max who goes on a journey, sometimes a rampage, through his own imagination after he is sent to bed without supper, was quite controversial when it was published, and his quirky and borderline scary illustrations for E.T.A. Hoffmann’s “Nutcracker” did not have the sugar-coating featured in other versions.
Sendak also created costumes for ballets and staged operas, including the Czech opera “Brundibar,” which he also put on paper with collaborator Pulitzer-winning playwright Tony Kushner in 2003.
But despite his varied resume, Sendak accepted and embraced the label “kiddie-book author” and spoke about his writing in one of his last interviews in January on “The Colbert Report.”
“I don’t write for children,” he said. “I write and somebody said, ‘that’s for children.'”
Sendak, who did his work in a studio at the Ridgefield, Conn., home he moved into in the early 1960s, never embraced high-tech toys. He did, however, have a collection of Mickey Mouse and other Walt Disney toys displayed throughout the house.
When director Spike Jonez made the movie version of “Where the Wild Things Are,” Sendak said he urged the director to remember his view that childhood isn’t all sweetness and light. And he was happy with the result.
Sendak didn’t go to college and worked a string of odd jobs until he went to work at the famous toy store FAO Schwarz as a window dresser in 1948. But it was his childhood dream to be an illustrator and his break came in 1951 when he was commissioned to do the art for “Wonderful Farm” by Marcel Ayme.
By 1957 he was writing his own books.
Sendak received the international Hans Christian Andersen medal for illustration in 1970. In 1983 he won the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award from the American Library Association.
But it was “Brundibar,” a folk tale about two children who need to earn enough money to buy milk for their sick mother that Sendak completed when he was 75, that he was most proud of.
“This is the closest thing to a perfect child I’ve ever had,” he said.
Sendak stayed away from the book-signing bandwagon that many other authors use for publicity; he said he couldn’t stand the thought of parents dragging children to wait on line for hours to see a little old man in thick glasses.
“Kids don’t know about best sellers,” he said. “They go for what they enjoy. They aren’t star chasers and they don’t suck up. It’s why I like them.”
“Where the Wild Things Are” has become a classic for most children who remember reading it or having it read to them at some point during their childhood.
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