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Ellen Freudenheim

About Maurice Sendak, Born In Brooklyn, Who Died Today

By May 8, 2012

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I have long been a big fan of children's book author and illustrator Maurice Sendak, who was born in Brooklyn on June 10, 1928, and passed away today, Tuesday, May 8th. What parent in Brooklyn hasn't thumbed the pages of one of his classics? And so, in honor and in memory, I wanted to post a note.

What a character! In a late-in-life interview about his latest book Bumble-ardy with NPR's Terry Gross he says, "I am writing a poem about a nose. I always wanted to write a poem about a nose."

And, though aging and ill he adds,  "I am in love with the world;" "It is a blessing to get old."

Dubbed by one critic "the Picasso of children's literature" and once addressed by former President Bill Clinton as "the King of Dreams," Maurice Sendak has illustrated nearly a hundred picture books throughout his 60-year career. Some of his best known books include Chicken Soup with Rice (1962), Where the Wild Things Are (1963), and In the Night Kitchen (1970). Born in Brooklyn in 1928 to Jewish immigrant parents from northern Poland, Sendak grew up idolizing the storytelling abilities of his father, Philip, and his big brother, Jack. As a child he illustrated his first stories on shirt cardboard provided by his tailor-father. Aside from a few night classes in art after graduating high school, Sendak is a largely self-taught artist. His characters, stories, and inspirations were drawn from among his own neighbors, family, pop culture, historical sources, literary influences, and long-held childhood memories. He has worked with such well-known children's authors as Ruth Krauss, Else Minarik, and Arthur Yorinks, and has illustrated books by Leo Tolstoy, Herman Melville, Isaac Bashevis Singer, the Brothers Grimm, and the poet Randall Jarrell. Sendak began a second career as a costume and stage designer in the late 1970s, designing operas by Mozart, Prokofiev, Ravel, and Tchaikovsky, among others. He has won numerous awards, including a Caldecott Award, a Newberry Medal, the international Hans Christian Andersen Award, a National Book Award, the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, and a National Medal of Arts. His books continue to be read by millions of children and adults and have been translated into dozens of languages and enjoyed all over the world.

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