- Virginia Johnson
When it first appeared in 1963, Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are didn’t look like or read like any other children’s book out there. It was full of mystery and wonder--and Wild Things with attitude, including the King of all Wild Things, our hero Max.
But Max of the wolf suit wasn’t originally supposed to voyage to the Land of the Wild Things. He was first scheduled to be visiting the Land of the Wild Horses--which was how the book was planned and given to Maurice Sendak to write and illustrate. The problem was, the author/illustrator did not know how to draw horses. So his editor let him change them to Wild Things, a take on the Yiddish phrase "Vilde chaya,” meaning boisterous children.* This changeover was magic.
The book became a Caldecott Medal winner and endured as a classic read-aloud, along with many of his other stories. Written early on in his career, Sendak’s popular Nutshell Library included Alligators All Around, Chicken Soup with Rice, One Was Johnny, and Pierre-- books that are remembered fondly in the tiny editions but also available as full-size, separate books.
As the first American winner of the Hans Christian Andersen Award for a body of illustrative work, Sendak was indisputably a master writer and artist for young people. He tapped into the stubborn cleverness and, yes, wildness residing in the souls of children. He told them tales set in dream and drawn with an elegant and fresh understanding of their nature--stories that would follow them into adulthood. For all the fun and the fable and the fantasy he provided, readers, writers, and editors across the generations saluted the passage on May 8, 2012, of one of children’s literature’s greatest talents:
“Maurice Sendak: 1928-2012” from Kirkus Reviews
“Maurice Sendak: Every Shadow Mattered,” from The New Yorker
“Maurice Sendak: Roaring Tributes Pour in for 'Grumpy, Magical' Writer” from The Guardian
“Understanding Children, Yet Wanting Them to Grow Up a Bit,” from The New York Times