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'Where the Wild Things Are' author Sendak wrote to 'communicate profound truths'

Maurice Sendak never had children, but understood the power of the parent-child bond. His seminal work, 'Where the Wild Things Are,' was criticized as too dark for children, but became a classic. 

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Maurice Sendak sits in his home in Ridgefield, Conn., in 2011. Sendak, author of the popular children's book, 'Where the Wild Things Are,' died Tuesday.

Mary Altaffer/AP/File

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Iconic author and illustrator Maurice Sendak, who died Tuesday morning, never had children. But he understood the power of the parent-child bond, and the relationships that avid readers young and old had with his book were as intimate and passionate as any between parent and offspring.

“Maurice Sendak, for me,” says Joseph Heithaus, a DePauw University professor, poet, and father of four via email, “embodied the pleasure of curling in next to your child and reading something that could delight both of you.” His youngest, now 10, he says, “still wants her childhood story books read aloud at night, and just last week we read again ‘Chicken Soup with Rice.’ ”

That Sendak poem, he says, “even outside its hilarious illustrations, does just what a poem should do. It sets up a pattern and then surprises you again and again.”

Professor Heithaus says the Sendak work, working similarly to a ghazal, an ancient Persian poetic form, incites the reader to play along. “What child hearing that book aloud doesn't join you in the refrain – Chicken Soup with Rice?” he says.

Mr. Sendak himself always rued the fact that he did not have children of his own, however, and toward the end of his career created the Sendak Fellowship. This month-long retreat brought authors to his remote Connecticut compound for weeks of intense artistic inquiry – and genuine fellowship, say those fortunate enough to have partaken in one of the only two held.

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