Children’s book author Maurice Sendak, creator of the iconic Where the Wild Things Are and chronicler of the adventures of Max, has died at age 83.
The author who redefined children’s literature with his seminal work died at Danbury Hospital in Connecticut of complications stemming from a stroke, the hospital told Reuters.
“We are terribly saddened at the passing of Maurice Sendak,” said HarperCollins Children’s Books president and publisher Susan Katz in a statement.
“He was a glorious author and illustrator, an amazingly gifted designer, a blisteringly funny raconteur, a fierce and opinionated wit, and a loyal friend to those who knew him. His talent is legendary; his mind and breadth of knowledge equally so,” she said. “Every once in a while, someone comes along who changes our world for the better. Maurice Sendak was such a man.”
Born in Brooklyn in 1928, Sendak illustrated more than 50 books, according to Reuters. He spent much of his childhood inside because he was sickly, so had plenty of time to read and draw, which he did copiously all the way through high school and beyond.
The Wonderful Farm was his first book, published in 1951, but his depictions of wide-faced, grinning monsters in 1963’s Where the Wild Things Are put him on the map, and he won the Caldecott Medal for his illustrations from the American Library Association in 1964.
His books most likely inspired many children to read, said Debbie Reese, Nambe Pueblo, keeper of the American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL) website. But his work came with a catch, as she noted in some posts on the site last year.
“Tributes to Maurice Sendak swept through the Internet today,” she told Indian Country Today Media Network by e-mail. “A great many people loved his books for children, and no doubt his books hooked children, turning them into lifelong readers. That, in itself, is a good thing.”
However, she added, there was another side to his work.
“Most readers, I think, never paused—or pause—to consider his stereotyping of American Indians,” she wrote. “In his alphabet book Alligators All Around, published in 1962, he literally advocates playing Indian with the text on the I page that reads ‘Imitating Indians.’ Nearly 50 years later, he was still drawing characters playing Indian in Bumble-ardy.”
He was “a gifted artist and storyteller,” she said. “Imagine the story he would tell, and the impact it would make, if he had brought those skills to a new story that was critiquing his stereotyping of Indians!”