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Artists in 60 Seconds: Maurice Sendak


Movement, Style, School or Type of Art:


Let it be known, however, that Sendak said, "I don't like the word 'illustrating.' I like the word 'picture making.' Because if you're just illustrating, it means you're like an echo of the text. Who needs you?"

Date and Place of Birth:

June 10, 1928, Brooklyn, New York.

Maurice Bernard Sendak was the third and last child of Philip (1897-1970) and Sarah "Sadie" (née Schindler; 1897-1967). Both parents were immigrants from small Polish shtetlekh (Jewish 'small towns') near Warsaw. The baby joined his older sister Natalie (1920-2004) and brother Jack (1924-1995), both of whom would remain his beloved siblings until their deaths.

Early Life:

Philip, who went by "Pincus Seudah" prior to Ellis Island, was a machine operator in a garment factory, while Sadie was a housewife. The family had a penchant for moving any time their current apartment was to be repainted, as Sadie could not stand the smell. By the time Maurice was four years old, he had already suffered through the measles, double pneumonia, and scarlet fever. This left him a frail child who was often confined to bed. Between that and the Sendak family's frequent moves, it also left him a rather lonely child. The only two lasting friendships he made in childhood were with Natalie and Jack. He had this to say about them later in life:

"I had a brother who was my savior, made my childhood bearable. He was older by five years, Jack Sendak. He wrote a number of books. He was very, very, very gifted. More importantly to my life, he saved my life. He drew me away from the lack of comprehension that existed between me and my parents. And he took his time with me to draw pictures and read stories and live a kind of fantastical life.

And my sister occasionally joined in, but mostly - after all, she was a girl. All that was expected of her was that she should grow up and be very pretty and marry a decent man. So she had to concentrate on what my parents expected of her. And she didn't have the creative insanity that existed between me and my brother to go further with that. I wish she had. I loved her very much."

Important Works:

  • Illustrator Little Bear series, 1957-68
  • Chicken Soup with Rice (A Book of Months), 1962
  • Where the Wild Things Are, 1963
  • In the Night Kitchen, 1970
  • Outside Over There, 1981
  • We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy, 1993
  • Set designer and illustrator Brundibár, 2003

Date and Place of Death:

May 8, 2012; Danbury, Connecticut

Sendak died of complications from a stroke suffered four days earlier. Some months earlier, on September 20, 2011, he had this to say about death:

"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."


Lanes, Selma G. Down the Rabbit Hole: Adventures and
Misadventures in the Realm of Children's Literature
     New York: Atheneum, 1972.
---. The Art of Maurice Sendak.
     New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1980.

Video Worth Watching

  • "Tell Them Anything You Want" (2009)

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