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Maurice Sendak was born June 10, 1928 in Brooklyn, New York. His parents were poor immigrants from Poland who came to America before World War I. Many of his relatives died in the Holocaust, and this was an important influence upon his childhood. His parents were always upset about the relatives they had lost and the cloud of death was always in the air. He even drew the faces of some of his relatives who died in the Holocaust in Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Zlateh the Goat.
Sendak is the youngest of three children. He was also a very sickly child, who always caught pneumonia or some sort of illness. He grew up under the constant fear of his own death. His mother was very concerned, and always kept a watchful eye over him. For this reason, many of Sendak's books have a picture of a moon in the scene. This is representative of his watchful protective mother, peeking over him to make sure he is safe. (Sendak also puts a fish in pictures for his father. “Sendak” not only means “fish”, but also is a remembrance that there is always something fishy in all of his work.)
Sendak grew up in a family of storytellers. His father told (uncensored) stories that were considered “not for children.” They were nightmarishly scary stories of pogroms, death, love affairs, and other Jewish tales. His brother wrote stories, and his sister bound the stories into books that they sold on the sidewalks. Sendak loved hearing his father tell stories, and associates good books with being close and spending time with his father. Everyone in his family also read stories, and growing up, Sendak was jealous of his older siblings who could read words. He would even beg his sister to bring him books from the library (as opposed to children’s books), just so he could smell, touch, and taste them. His sister also gave him his first book, The Prince and the Pauper, by Mark Twain. Although he could not even read it at the time, Sendak slept with the book, and still has it today.
In 1947, at the age of nineteen, Sendak co-authored and published his first book, Atomics for the Millions. He began his illustrating career by drawing comic book pictures. In 1951, Sendak began freelance illustrating and writing.
Sendak published Kenny’s Window in 1956. It is a story about a child who is curious about the world outside of his front door. Very Far Away, Sendak's second book published in 1957, is a story about a boy, with a new baby sibling, who must learn to cope with his sudden lack of attention. In 1960, he published a story about a girl that he knew while growing up. It was called The Sign on Rosie’s Door.
Sendak published his first collection book, in four volumes, in 1962. This collection, called The Nutshell Library, contained Alligators All Around (alphabet book), Chicken Soup with Rice (rhyming book about months of year), One was Johnny (counting book), and Pierre (tale). It was printed on small books that explained the name “nutshell.” Years later, this series became the focus of a movie, Really Rosie. With songs by Carole King, and illustrations by Maurice Sendak, Really Rosie, was a huge success.
On May 6, of the following year, Sendak published his most famous book, Where the Wild Things Are. It is a story about a boy named Max who gets in trouble and is sent to his room without supper. He then travels to a magical land of wild things (huge scary monsters), who make him their king. Max eventually becomes tired of his new place and sails home, to find his supper waiting for him (and it is still hot).
Sendak based the monsters in Where the Wild Things Are on his Jewish relatives, who would come to their house when he was growing up, with their foul breath and big, yellow teeth. He has also said that the title of the book was supposed to be “Where the Wild Horses are,” but he was not successful at drawing horses, so his editor changed the title to “things,” as that was something that Sendak could definitely draw. This book won the Caldecott Medal the following year. It was also
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Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are, In the Night Kitchen, Outside Over There, The Wild Things, Really Rosie, Seven Little Monsters, Little Bear, Caldecott Medal, A Very Special House, Ruth Krauss
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