33 minute read

Maurice Sendak (1928–) Biography

Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights

(Maurice Bernard Sendak)


Born 1928, in Brooklyn, NY; Education: Attended Art Students' League, New York, NY, 1949–51.


Agent—c/o Author Mail, HarperCollins, 10 E. 53rd St., 7th Fl., New York, NY 10022.


Writer and illustrator of children's books, 1951–. All American Comics, part-time artist, c. mid-1940s; Timely Service (window display house), New York, NY, window display artist, 1946; F.A.O. Schwartz, New York, NY, display artist, 1948–51. Co-founder and artistic director, The Night Kitchen (national children's theatre), 1990–. Instructor at Parsons School of Design and Yale University. Set and costume designer for numerous opera productions in the United States and Great Britain, including The Magic Flute, for Houston Grand Opera, 1980; The Cunning Little Vixen, for New York City Opera, 1981; Love for Three Oranges, for Glyndebourne Opera, 1982; The Goose of Cairo, for New York City Opera, c. 1984; Idomeneo, for Los Angeles Opera, 1988; and L'Enfant et les sortilèges and L'Heure Espagnol, both for New York City Opera, 1989; Designer for The Nutcracker: The Motion Picture, 1986. Appeared in "Mon Cher Papa" episode of American Master Series, PBS-TV, 1987. May Hill Arbuthnot Lecturer, 2003. Exhibitions: Sendak's illustrations have been displayed in one-man shows at School of Visual Arts, New York, NY, 1964, Rosenbach Foundation, Philadelphia, PA, 1970 and 1975, Trinity College, Hartford, CT, 1972, Galerie Daniel Keel, Zurich, Switzerland, 1974, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford University, 1975, American Cultural Center, Paris, France, 1978, and Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, NY, 1981.

Maurice Sendak


Authors Guild, Authors League of America.

Honors Awards

New York Times Best Illustrated Book award, 1952, for A Hole Is to Dig, 1954, for I'll Be You and You Be Me, 1956, for I Want to Paint My Bathroom Blue, 1957, for The Birthday Party, 1958, for What Do You Say, Dear?, 1959, for Father Bear Comes Home, 1960, for Open House for Butterflies, 1962, for The Singing Hill, 1963, for Where the Wild Things Are, 1964, for The Bat-Poet, 1965, for The Animal Family, 1966, for Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories, 1968, for A Kiss for Little Bear, 1969, for The Light Princess, 1970, for In the Night Kitchen, 1973, for The Juniper Tree and Other Tales from Grimm and King Grisly-Beard, 1976, for Fly by Night, 1981, for Outside over There, and 1984, for The Nutcracker; Caldecott Medal runner-up, American Library Association (ALA), 1954, for A Very Special House, 1959, for What Do You Say, Dear?, 1960, for The Moon Jumpers, 1962, for Little Bear's Visit, 1963, for Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present, 1971, for In the Night Kitchen, and 1982, for Outside over There; Spring Book Festival honor book, 1956, for Kenny's Window; Caldecott Medal, and Lewis Carroll Shelf award, both 1964, International Board on Books for Young People award, 1966, Art Books for Children awards, 1973, 1974, 1975, Best Young Picture Books Paperback Award, Redbook, 1984, and Children's Choice award, 1985, all for Where the Wild Things Are; Chandler Book Talk Reward of Merit, 1967; Hans Christian Andersen International Medal (first American to receive this award), 1970, for body of illustration work; Art Books for Children award, 1973, 1974, 1975, and Redbook award, 1985, all for In the Night Kitchen; American Book Award nomination, 1980, for Higglety Pigglety Pop!; or, There Must Be More to Life; Boston Globe/Horn Book award, and New York Times Outstanding Book, both 1981, and American Book Award, 1982, all for Outside over There; Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, Association for Library Service to Children, 1983, for lasting contribution to children's literature; National Medal of the Arts, 1997; Astrid Lindgren Memorial Prize (co-recipient), 2003. L.H.D., Boston University, 1977; honorary degrees from University of Southern Mississippi, 1981, and Keene State College, 1986.



Kenny's Window, Harper (New York, NY), 1956, reprinted, 2004.

Very Far Away, Harper (New York, NY), 1957.

The Acrobat, privately printed, 1959.

The Sign on Rosie's Door, Harper (New York, NY), 1960.

Nutshell Library (verse; contains Chicken Soup with Rice: A Book of Months, One Was Johnny: A Counting Book, Alligators All Around: An Alphabet, and Pierre: A Cautionary Tale), Harper (New York, NY), 1962.

Where the Wild Things Are, Harper (New York, NY), 1963, 25th anniversary edition, 1988.

Hector Protector, and As I Went over the Water: Two Nursery Rhymes, Harper (New York, NY), 1965.

Higglety Pigglety Pop!; or, There Must Be More to Life, Harper (New York, NY), 1967.

In the Night Kitchen, Harper (New York, NY), 1970.

Ten Little Rabbits: A Counting Book with Mino the Magician, Philip H. Rosenbach, 1970.

Pictures by Maurice Sendak, Harper (New York, NY), 1971.

Maurice Sendak's Really Rosie (based on the television program of the same title; also see below), Harper (New York, NY), 1975.

(With Matthew Margolis) Some Swell Pup; or, Are You Sure You Want a Dog?, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1976.

Seven Little Monsters (verse), Harper (New York, NY), 1977.

Outside over There, Harper (New York, NY), 1981.

We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy: Two Nursery Rhymes with Pictures, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1993.


M.L. Eidinoff and Hyman Ruchlis, Atomics for the Millions (for adults), McGraw (New York, NY), 1947.

Robert Garvey, Good Shabbos, Everybody!, United Synagogue Commission on Jewish Education, 1951.

Marcel Ayme, The Wonderful Farm, Harper (New York, NY), 1951.

Ruth Krauss, A Hole Is to Dig: A First Book of Definitions, Harper (New York, NY), 1952.

Ruth Sawyer, Maggie Rose: Her Birthday Christmas, Harper (New York, NY), 1952.

Beatrice S. de Regniers, The Giant Story, Harper (New York, NY), 1953.

Meindert De Jong, Hurry Home, Candy, Harper (New York, NY), 1953.

Meindert De Jong, Shadrach, Harper (New York, NY), 1953.

Ruth Krauss, A Very Special House, Harper (New York, NY), 1953.

Hyman Chanover, Happy Hanukkah, Everybody, United Synagogue Commission on Jewish Education, 1954.

Ruth Krauss, I'll Be You and You Be Me, Harper (New York, NY), 1954.

Edward Tripp, The Tin Fiddle, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1954.

Marcel Ayme, Magic Pictures, Harper (New York, NY), 1954.

Betty MacDonald, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Farm, Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1954.

Meindert De Jong, The Wheel on the School, Harper (New York, NY), 1954.

Ruth Krauss, Charlotte and the White Horse, Harper (New York, NY), 1955.

Meindert De Jong, The Little Cow and the Turtle, Harper (New York, NY), 1955.

Jean Ritchie, Singing Family of the Cumberlands, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1955.

Beatrice S. de Regniers, What Can You Do with a Shoe?, Harper (New York, NY), 1955, reprinted, Aladdin (New York, NY), 2001.

Jack Sendak (brother), Happy Rain, Harper (New York, NY), 1956.

Meindert De Jong, The House of Sixty Fathers, Harper (New York, NY), 1956.

Ruth Krauss, I Want to Paint My Bathroom Blue, Harper (New York, NY), 1956.

Ruth Krauss, Birthday Party, Harper (New York, NY), 1957.

Jack Sendak, Circus Girl, Harper (New York, NY), 1957.

Ogden Nash, You Can't Get There from Here, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1957.

Else Minarik, Little Bear, Harper (New York, NY), 1957.

Meindert De Jong, Along Came a Dog, Harper (New York, NY), 1958.

Else Minarik, No Fighting, No Biting!, Harper (New York, NY), 1958.

Ruth Krauss, Somebody Else's Nut Tree, Harper (New York, NY), 1958.

Sesyle Joslyn, What Do You Say, Dear?: A Book of Manners for All Occasions, W.R. Scott (New York, NY), 1958.

Else Minarik, Father Bear Comes Home, Harper (New York, NY), 1959.

Janice Udry, The Moon Jumpers, Harper (New York, NY), 1959.

Hans Christian Andersen, Seven Tales, Harper (New York, NY), 1959.

Wilhelm Hauff, Dwarf Long-Nose, Random House (New York, NY), 1960.

Else Minarik, Little Bear's Friend, Harper (New York, NY), 1960.

Ruth Krauss, Open House for Butterflies, Harper (New York, NY), 1960.

Janice Udry, Let's Be Enemies, Harper (New York, NY), 1961.

Clemens Brentano, The Tale of Gockel, Hinkel, and Gackeliah, Random House (New York, NY), 1961.

Else Minarik, Little Bear's Visit, Harper (New York, NY), 1961.

Sesyle Joslyn, What Do You Do, Dear?, Young Scott Books, 1961.

Clemens Brentano, Schoolmaster Whackwell's Wonderful Sons, Random House (New York, NY), 1962.

Charlotte Zolotow, Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present, Harper (New York, NY), 1962.

Meindert De Jong, The Singing Hill, Harper (New York, NY), 1962.

Leo Tolstoy, Nikolenka's Childhood, Harper (New York, NY), 1963.

Robert Keeshan, She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not, Harper (New York, NY), 1963.

Randall Jarrell, The Bat-Poet, Collier (New York, NY), 1964.

Amos Vogel, How Little Lori Visited Times Square, Harper (New York, NY), 1964.

Jan Wahl, Pleasant Fieldmouse, Harper (New York, NY), 1964.

William Engvick, editor, Lullabies and Night Songs, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1965.

Randall Jarrell, The Animal Family, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1965.

Isaac Bashevis Singer, Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories, Harper (New York, NY), 1966.

George Macdonald, The Golden Key, Harper (New York, NY), 1967, 2nd edition, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1984.

William Blake, Poems from William Blake's Songs of Innocence, Bodley Head (London, England), 1967.

Robert Graves, The Big Green Book, Crowell (New York, NY), 1968.

Frank Stockton, Griffin and the Minor Canon, Collins (New York, NY), 1968.

Else Minarik, A Kiss for Little Bear, Harper (New York, NY), 1968.

George Macdonald, The Light Princess, Bodley Head (London, England), 1969, revised edition, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1969.

Frank Stockton, The Bee-Man of Orn, Holt (New York, NY), 1971.

Doris Orgel, Sarah's Room, Bodley Head (London, England), 1971.

(And selector with Lore Segal) Jakob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm, The Juniper Tree, and Other Tales from Grimm, translated by Segal and Randall Jarrell, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1973, revised edition, 2003.

Marie Catherine Jumelle de Berneville Aulnoy, Fortunia: A Tale by Mme. D'Aulnoy, translated by Richard Schaubeck, Frank Hallman, 1974.

Randall Jarrell, Fly by Night, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1976.

Jakob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm, King Grisly-Beard: A Tale from the Brothers Grimm, Harper (New York, NY), 1978.

E.T.A. Hoffman, The Nutcracker, translated by Ralph Manheim, Crown (New York, NY), 1984, reprinted, 2001.

Philip Sendak (father), In Grandpa's House, translated and adapted by Seymour Barofsky, Harper (New York, NY), 1985.

Dear Mili: An Old Tale by Wilhelm Grimm, based on a letter by Wilhelm Grimm translated by Manheim, Michael Di Capua Books/Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1988, reprinted, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.

(With Garth Williams) Jerome Griswold, The Children's Books of Randall Jarrell, University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 1988.

Lloyd Alexander, and others, The Big Book for Peace, edited by Marilyn Sachs and others, Dutton (New York, NY), 1990.

Iona Opie, I Saw Esau, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 1992.

Marcel Ayme, The Wonderful Farm, translated by Norman Denny, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1994.

Herman Melville, Pierre, or, The Ambiguities, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1995.

Arthur Yorinks, The Miami Giant, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1995.

Heinrich von Kleist, Penthesilea: A Tragic Drama, translated and introduced by Joel Agee, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1998.

James Marshall, Swine Lake, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1999.

Else Minarik, Present from Little Bear, edited by Mark McVeigh, Harper Festival (New York, NY), 2002.

Else Minarik, Little Bear and the Missing Pie, edited by Mark McVeigh, Harper Festival (New York, NY), 2002.

Else Minarik, Little Bear's Egg, edited by Mark McVeigh, Harper Festival (New York, NY), 2002.

Else Minarik, Little Bear's Flying Flapjack, edited by Mark McVeigh, Harper Festival (New York, NY), 2002.

Else Minarik, Little Bear's Wagon, edited by Mark McVeigh, Harper Festival (New York, NY), 2002.

Tony Kushner, Brundibar, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2003.

Ruth Krauss, Bears, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2005.

Also illustrator of Little Stories by Gladys B. Bond, Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith.


Fantasy Sketches (exhibition catalogue), Philip H. Rosenbach, 1970.

(Editor and author of introduction) Maxfield Parrish Poster Book, Crown (New York, NY), 1974.

(Author of appreciation) The Publishing Archive of Lothar Meggendorfer, Schiller, 1975.

(And director and lyricist) Really Rosie, Starring the Nutshell Kids (script for animated television special; based on characters from The Nutshell Library and The Sign on Rosie's Door; broadcast on Columbia Broadcasting System, 1975; also see below), music composed and performed by Carol King, Harper (New York, NY), 1975.

(Editor) The Disney Poster Book, illustrated by Walt Disney Studios, Harper (New York, NY), 1977.

(Lyricist and set designer) Really Rosie (musical play; revised from the television special of the same title), music by Carol King, produced in London and Washington, DC, 1978, produced off-Broadway, 1980.

(Lyricist and set and costume designer) Where the Wild Things Are (opera; based on his book of the same title), music by Oliver Knussen, produced in Belgium, 1980, produced at New York, NY, 1984.

(Author of introduction) Jean de Brunhoff, Babar's Anniversary Album, Random House (New York, NY), 1981.

Collection of Books, Posters and Original Drawings, Schiller, 1984.

(With Frank Corsaro) The Love for Three Oranges: The Glyndebourne Version (dialogue), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1984.

(Librettist and set and costume designer) Higglety, Pigglety, Pop! (opera), produced in England, 1984.

(Author of commentary) Jonathan Cott, editor, Master-works of Children's Literature, Volume 7, Chelsea House, 1984.

(Photographer) Rudolf Tesnohlidek, The Cunning Little Vixen, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1985.

(Author of introduction) Jonathan Cott, Victorian Color Picture Books, Stonehill Publishing/Chelsea House, 1985.

Posters, Harmony Books (New York, NY), 1986.

(Author of foreword) John Canemaker, Winsor McCay: His Life and Art, Abbeville Press (New York, NY), 1987.

Caldecott & Co.: Notes on Books & Pictures, Michael Di Capua Books/Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1988.

(Author of introduction) Mickey Mouse Movie Stories, Abrams (New York, NY), 1988.

Maurice Sendak Book and Poster Package: Wild Things, Harper (New York, NY), 1991.

(Set and costume designer) Frank and Joey Go to Work, Harper Festival (New York, NY), 1996.

(Author of narration; with the Shirim Klezmer Orchestra) Pincus and the Pig: A Klezmer Tale (CD-ROM), Tzakik, 2004.

Contributor of illustrations to McCall's and Ladies' Home Journal. Contributor to Worlds of Childhood: The Art and Craft of Writing for Children, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1998.

Sendak's books have been translated into numerous languages.

Sendak's manuscripts are collected at the Museum of the Philip H. and A.S.W. Rosenbach Foundation, Philadelphia, PA, and the Kerlan Collection, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.


Film strips with cassettes have been produced by Weston Woods of Where the Wild Things Are, 1968, and Pierre, Chicken Soup with Rice, Alligators All Around, and One Was Johnny, all 1976. Where the Wild Things Are was recorded on cassette by Caedmon, 1988, and was adapted as an animated film, directed by Spike Jonze. In the Night Kitchen was adapted for film, Weston Woods, 1988, and as a talking book. The "Little Bear" books were the basis of an animated TV series. Higglety Pigglety Pop! was adapted as a Braille book and a record by Caedmon; Sendak's characters have inspired toy dolls and retellings including Maurice Sendak's Seven Little Monsters, by Arthur Yorinks, Hyperion, 2003.


The first American to win a Hans Christian Andersen International Medal and the first recipient of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Prize, Maurice Sendak is credited as one of the most influential illustrators of late twentieth-century children's literature. With the Caldecott Medal-winning Where the Wild Things Are, Sendak led the way in creating more realistic child characters, moving away from the nostalgic models of innocence and sweetness portrayed in books published before the 1960s. By creating drawings inspired by the paintings of Degas and Cassatt as much as by nineteenth-century illustrators and modern cartoons, he also quickly demonstrated his unusual adaptability. Reflecting the view of many, critic John Rowe Townsend, in his Written for Children: An Outline of English-Language Children's Literature, dubbed Sendak "the greatest creator of picture books in the hundred-odd years' history of the form."

Despite his popularity, Sendak has also been the subject of some controversy. "Critics of Sendak's work often argue that youngsters are not ready for the themes and images he presents, wrote Selma G. Lanes in her The Art of Maurice Sendak. "Sendak has forthrightly confronted such sensitive subject matters as childhood anger, sexuality, or the occasionally murderous impulses of raw sibling rivalry," This "honesty has troubled or frightened many who would wish to sentimentalize childhood—to shelter children from their own psychological complexity or to deny that this complexity exists," explained Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor John Cotham. For Sendak, this exploration of children's feelings has been more personal. As he revealed to Steven Heller in Innovators of American Illustration, "my work was an act of exorcism, an act of finding solutions so that I could have peace of mind and be an artist and function in the world as a human being and a man. My mind doesn't stray beyond my own need to survive."

The son of Jewish immigrants from Poland, Sendak grew up in a poor Brooklyn neighborhood with his older brother, Jack, and sister, Natalie. His family never stayed in one neighborhood for very long, moving from apartment to apartment every time their landlords painted because Sendak's mother could not stand the smell of fresh paint. Sendak was a sickly child, suffering from measles, double pneumonia, and scarlet fever between the ages of two and four, and because his parents did not like him playing outside for fear he would become sick, he also had difficulty making friends. Treated like a semi-invalid, the young boy became obsessed with the idea that he might not have long to live. "I was a miserable kid," he confessed to Lanes.

Sendak found escape from his childhood misery through drawing, reading, movies, music, and his imagination. His favorite reading included comic books featuring Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters, and some of his illustrations clearly reflect this early influence. He also loved musicals and comedy films starring Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, while in music his taste veered toward Mozart and the classics. Because his family could not afford piano lessons, he expressed his creativity by drawing and writing stories, and during his days spent sick in bed would sketch the people and houses in his neighborhood, dreaming up fantasies for them to be in. He learned to make up stories from his father, who amused the Sendak children with fantastic tales. At age seven, Sendak and his brother, Jack, started writing down stories on cardboard discarded from shirt wrappings. Jack would also become a children's author, and two of his books have been illustrated by Sendak.

In high school Sendak had a job creating backgrounds for the comic strips "Mutt and Jeff," "Tippy," and "Captain Stubbs"; he also wrote his own comic strip for his school newspaper and illustrated a physics book, Atomics for the Millions, for one of his teachers. After he graduated, he opted out of college. Instead, he worked for about two years in a warehouse in Manhattan. Leaving that job in 1948, he designed mechanical wooden toys with Jack that the brothers tried to sell to famous New York toy company, F.A.O. Schwartz. Although no sales were forthcoming, Sendak was hired to work on the store's window displays. One of his displays was seen by noted illustrator Leonard Weisgard, who offered Sendak a commission to illustrate Good Shabbos, Everybody.

While Sendak was working for Schwartz, he attended classes at the Art Student's League, and there his instructor, John Groth, told him that, because of his talent, his time would be better spent actively practiced his art in the real world. Taking Groth's advice, Sendak left art school and tried submitting his drawings to publishing houses. Editors felt his work was too old-fashioned, though, with its strong influences of nineteenth-century illustrators such as George Cruikshank, John Tenniel, Wilhelm Busch, and Louis Maurice Boutet de Monvel. The intricate, cross-hatching style Sendak had adopted from them was nothing like the simpler style preferred by book editors in the 1940s and 1950s.

Fortunately, F.A.O. Schwartz's children's book department head Frances Christie introduced Sendak to Harper and Brothers editor Ursula Nordstrom, who assigned him illustration projects that helped him develop his craft and reputation. "I loved her on first meeting," Sendak remembered in The Art of Maurice Sendak. "My happiest memories, in fact, are of my earliest career, when Ursula was my confidante and best friend. She really became my home and the person I trusted most." Nordstrom arranged for Sendak to be the illustrator for Ruth Krauss's A Hole Is to Dig, the book that first established Sendak as an important illustrator. A Hole Is to Dig was such a popular and critical success that Sendak was able to quit his job at F.A.O. Schwartz and work as a freelancer.

With Nordstrom's help, Sendak learned how to be flexible and adapt his drawings to the texts they accompanied. His illustrations show great variation, from the line drawings of Kenny's Window and Where the Wild Things Are to the cartoonish style of In the Night Kitchen to the highly detailed, cross-hatching style found in Outside over There and his drawings for the books by the Brothers Grimm. He also illustrated as many books as he could, adding to his recognition.

Many books featuring Sendak's illustrations have become popular and critical successes, among them the "Little Bear" series, written by Else Minarik, which proved so popular that four titles were added to the series in 2002, almost fifty years after Little Bear debuted in 1957. With the encouragement of Nordstrom, the il-lustrator also managed to find the time to write his own texts, and Kenny's Window and Very Far Away became his first published self-authored books. With The Sign on Rosie's Door he created his first hit with critics. Rosie is based on a real girl Sendak recalled from his Brooklyn childhood. The book draws from the sketches he once made of Rosie and her friends, and the story line uses actual events and quotes the real Rosie directly in some cases. The Sign on Rosie's Door focuses on a group of children with nothing to do on a long summer day in the city. Rosie, a somewhat bossy, but friendly and highly imaginative ten year old, shows her friends how to use fantasy to chase away their boredom. This book led to Sendak's first venture into live theater when he designed the sets and wrote lyrics for a stage version produced in 1980.

The Nutshell Library features some of the characters from The Sign on Rosie's Door. Comprised of an alphabet book, a counting book, a book about the seasons, and a cautionary tale—all measuring only two-and-one-half by four inches—The Nutshell Library books have been highly praised for Sendak's skill "at integrating text, design, and illustrations," according to Cotham. Today, they are still considered among the artist's most successful efforts.

After illustrating several picture books for other authors, Sendak decided to write several more picture books, and he considers Where the Wild Things Are, In the Night Kitchen, and Outside over There to form a loose-knit trilogy. Although the three stories seem unrelated, as the artist explained in The Art of Maurice Sendak, they "are all variations on the same theme: how children master various feelings—anger, boredom, fear, frustration, jealousy—and manage to come to grips with the realities of their lives." Each story involves the main character's voyaging into a fantasy world: In Where the Wild Things Are Max is sent to his room without supper after arguing with his mother and deals with his anger by imagining himself sailing to an island ruled by enormous, frightening monsters and becoming their king; In the Night Kitchen a boy named Mickey helps a group of all-night bakers make goodies in a strange city by scouting down the milk needed for the bakers' cake; and in Outside over There Oda, who is very jealous of her baby brother, neglects him, until one day goblins kidnap the baby and take him to another world "outside over there."

Parts of Sendak's books are inspired by the author/illustrator's personal memories. For example, the monsters in Where the Wild Things Are were inspired by the artist's hated Brooklyn relatives. "I wanted the wild things to be frightening," Sendak remarked in The Art of Maurice Sendak. "But why? It was probably at this point that I remembered how I detested my Brooklyn relatives as a small child…. They'd lean way over with their bad teeth and hairy noses, and say something threatening like 'You're so cute I could eat you up.' And I knew if my mother didn't hurry up with the cooking, they probably would."

In the Night Kitchen was inspired by more recent memories. In 1967 Sendak suffered a heart attack, then lost his mother and beloved Sealyham terrier, Jennie, to cancer. Two years later, his father also died. After these tragic events, the artist left New York City and moved to Connecticut. In the Night Kitchen was his way "to … say goodbye to New York," as he told Martha Shirk in a Chicago Tribune article, "and say goodbye to my parents, and tell a little bit about the narrow squeak I had just been through." In the story, Mickey's brush with death when he is nearly baked in a cake symbolizes Sendak's own close call. In the Night Kitchen, the artist concluded in a New York Times article by Lisa Hammel, is about his "victory over death."

Sendak considers Outside over There his most personal work. "The book is obviously related to my own babyhood when my sister, Natalie, Ida's age, took care of me," he revealed to Jean F. Mercier in Publishers Weekly. The tale has its roots in the real-life story of the kidnapping of famous American pilot Charles Lindbergh's baby in 1932. Sendak recalled in his New York Times Book Review article how at the time he was "4 years old, sick in bed and somehow confusing myself with this baby. I had the superstitious feeling that if he came back I'd be O.K., too. Sadly, we all know the baby didn't come back. It left a peculiar mark in my mind." Outside over There "is really a homage to my sister, who is Ida," the artist later added.

Sendak became a controversial figure with the publication of Where the Wild Things Are, after critics and educators complained that the monsters are too frightening for small children. In the Night Kitchen was also attacked by some reviewers due to its use of cartoon-style illustrations, as well as a picture of Mickey with no clothing on. A more-recently censored book by Sendak is Some Swell Pup; or, Are You Sure You Want a Dog?, a realistic guide to taking care of puppies, which was censored because of an illustration showing a dog defecating. According to Sendak in a New York Times article by Bernard Holland, censoring books that portray some of the facts of life to children is more for the benefit of the adult than the child: "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."

In his new home in Connecticut, Sendak lived in virtual isolation during much of the 1970, enjoying the quiet of his ten-room stone and clapboard house located in a rural part of the state. Working ten to eleven hours a day in a room he converted into a studio, he illustrated picture books for other authors, and completed Outside over There. Sendak now felt that he needed a change from picture books, so, in 1980, he embarked on a new career in theatre.

A fan of classical music since childhood, Sendak had always wanted to get closer to the works of the masters, especially Mozart. Often, while writing and illustrating his books he would listen to Mozart for inspiration, and he consequently memorized many of Mozart's compositions. The image of Mozart has even entered into some of Sendak's illustrations, but this was never enough for the artist. Now he could "illustrate" the music he loved, in three dimensions no less! Designing the sets and costumes for Mozart's The Magic Flute, Sendak went on to create designs for such operas as The Cunning Little Vixen and The Love of Three Oranges as well as stage and film versions of Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker. He also wrote the lyrics and did designs for his own musical based on Where the Wild Things Are and penned a libretto for Higglety, Pigglety, Pop! "That is why the operas are so important," Sendak told Ross, "because by costuming and setting them I have come as close to the music as I ever have in my life. I'm now literally on the stage, and I'm coloring Mozart, illustrating him in the way I used to illustrate people's stories." In 2004 he came even closer, putting aside the visual elements altogether to record a "Yinglish" adaptation of Peter Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf, backed by the Shirim Klezmer Orchestra. Combining Yiddish and English, Sendak's "rumbly voice and humorous inflection of 'Yiddishisms'" creates an "entertaining" interpretation, according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer.

Speaking with Horn Book interviewer David E. White, Sendak explained that with his own theatre productions he hoped to correct what he had always disliked about stage productions geared for young audiences. "There are too many operas called children's operas," he noted. "Most of them suffer for this very reason. They are written down to children, as though children could not appreciate the full weight of good musical quality." In order to have complete freedom in creating the caliber of work he wanted to do for children, in 1990 Sendak and fellow writer Arthur Yorinks co-founded a national children's theater called The Night Kitchen. As artistic director, he intended to produce new versions of plays such as Peter Pan and Hansel and Gretel that will not talk down to children. "Our work is very peculiar, idiosyncratic," Sendak told New York Times contributor Eleanor Blau. "I don't believe in things literally for children. That's a reduction." Believing that children and adults should be treated with equal respect, he added: "Children are more open in their hearts and head[s] for what you're doing…. They're the best audience in town."

While moving into his stage work during the 1980s and 1990s Sendak has continued to illustrate books for other authors, including stories by the Brothers Grimm and Pierre, a tale by Moby-Dick author Herman Melville. In 1993, Sendak brought out a long-awaited author-illustrator title, We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy, "an apocalyptic improvisation on two little-known English nursery rhymes," according to Lanes in the St. James Guide to Children's Writers. Sendak hearkened back to Hector Protector with this title, again creating a fanciful extrapolation of a pair of nursery rhymes. A Kirkus Reviews writer commented that Sendak "penetrates deeply into society's ills in his elaborate visual extension of the words" and commended his "extraordinary art" and his expression of ideas in ways which have "never been more intricate, telling, or playful."

Other illustration projects have included the verse compilation I Saw Esau: The Schoolchild's Pocket Book, and Swine Lake, a tutu'd, tongue-in-cheek romp based on a story by the late children's author James Marshall. A tale of very cultured pigs whose world is invaded by a crass, philistine wolf, the humorous picture book "slyly reveal[s] the infectious pleasures of the performing arts," according to Peter Marks, writing in the New York Times Book Review. Sendak also blended his love of illustration with that of the theater in Brundibar, a collaboration with noted playwright Tony Kushner that is based on a 1942 opera about two siblings who attempt to sing for money to buy milk for their mother and are thwarted by a local bully. While the story ends on an up-note, the history of the opera's original production does not: it was originally performed at a Jewish boy's orphanage during World War II, and followed its cast to the Auschwitz concentration camp where most of the boys were eventually killed. Praising the book as a "stunning piece of art," a Kirkus Reviews writer also noted the "disturbing" qualities of the story, adding that "Sendak's incredible illustrations sprinkle in horrifying historical details" while also referencing some of his earlier art. Noting the collaboration, the reviewer summed up Brundibar as "a heartbreaking, hopeful masterpiece with powerful implications" for modern readers.

Sendak credits part of his ability to communicate with young children with the fact that he retains a vivid sense of what life was like from the viewpoint of a child. By maintaining contact with the young boy that still lives within him, he can easily relate to children, while his adult self is able to touch on subjects and feelings that can stir recognition in adults. "We've all passed the same places," he once noted. "Only I remember the geography, and most people forget it." This desire to maintain a connection with the fantasy world of childhood continues to inspire Sendak creatively. "The writing and the picture-making are merely a means to an end," he commented in Down the Rabbit Hole. "It has never been for me a graphic matter—or even, for that matter, a word matter!," he added "To discuss a children's book in terms of its pictorial beauty—or prose style—is not to the point. It is the particular nugget of magic it achieves—if it achieves. It has always only been a means—a handle with which I can swing myself into—somewhere or other—the place I'd rather be."

Biographical and Critical Sources


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Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Paul Anthony Samuelson (1915– ) Biography to Bessie Smith (1895–1937) Biography