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Goodbye To A Legend: Maurice Sendak, Author Of ‘Where The Wild Things Are,’ Dies At 83

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where the wild things areMaurice Sendak, hands down one of the best children’s book authors of all time, has died at 83 (the cause was complications from a recent stroke). This is a man who helped shape countless childhoods, including my own. I can still remember the first time I heard Where the Wild Things Are – probably his best known children’s book – and just how life-altering it was.

I was a little kid, maybe 5 or 6, and my older brother had trees made from red fabric on his bedroom walls (how ’70s is that?). Anyway, I was too embarrassed to tell anyone even then, but those trees scared the shit out of me; they made me feel like I was deep in a forest, and god knows what was lurking deep in a forest in the dead of night. Then I discovered Where the Wild Things Are and the amazing world of Max, who sails far away to a land of Wild Things. Instead of eating him, the Wild Things make Max their king, and the “wild rumpus” begins. I was just a kid, but I remember thinking how brave Max was, and how the Wild Things – with their terrible teeth and terrible eyes and terrible claws – were actually alright.

The book was published in 1963 and librarians immediately banned it, fearing it was too frightening. Parents and childhood experts agreed, calling it dark, even aggressive. Needless to say, it went on to become an award-winning classic, one that children and adults alike have been devouring for nearly 50 years.

A couple of years ago, when my own son, then 4, was afraid of the “monsters” in his bedroom, I pulled out Where the Wild Things Are. There’s a part where Max – which happens to be my son’s middle name – shouts at the Wild Things to “BE STILL!” and they comply. To this day, every time my son tells me about the creatures lurking in his bedroom, I ask him what he should tell them. “Be still!” he says, and I can see how empowered he suddenly feels. I know it’s hokey but to me, this is just one sign of a classic that will still be relevant 50 years from now.

Of course, Sendak also wrote and illustrated a slew of other children’s books, including In the Night Kitchen (I can still remember being a kid and giggling at Mickey’s bare bum), Higglety Pogglety Pop and Chicken Soup With Rice. Those interested in the details of his life, including how he got his start and how she famously shied away from the spotlight, can check out this piece in today’s New York Times. I can’t pretend to have known so much about Sendak himself, but I do know that his books were a huge part of my childhood, and already they’ve done wonders for my own children. Which explains why news of Sendak’s death hit me hard, as it no doubt has for generations of people who were, in their own ways, touched by Sendak’s rich, imaginary worlds that were anything but sugar-coated.