He has been called both a pariah and a Picasso. Some critics have called him an original genius, while others claim he is derivative. The man is Maurice Sendak, and he is, at the age of 72, undoubtedly a force in both literature and art. His beginnings were humble, the son of Polish immigrants in Brooklyn, and he grew up surrounded by relatives who had survived the Holocaust.
Born in 1928, he was nine when Hitler began taking bits and pieces of Europe, and when he was entering the teen years and being bar mitzvahed, most of his parents' families in Europe had perished in concentration camps.
In 1999, he confided to a reporter his memories of those days. "I think my mother's relatives comically became the wild things. At the time I was completely unsympathetic to these people. I was embarrassed-that's the snobbishness of childhood" (Winerman, 1999, 31). This snobbishness disappeared as he grew older, and as a partial understanding of the events in Europe came into focus for him.
In the 1950s, while working as a window designer and clerk at New York's incredible toy emporium F.A.O. Schwartz, an editor at Harper and Brothers publishers, Ursula Nordstrom, saw some of his window drawings and convinced him that he should try his hand at illustrating children's books.
This was an exciting occurrence for Sendak, who often spent cozy evenings listening to his father weave fantastic tales and stories. Sickly and weak as a child, he turned inward and found a strong creative streak. He would design toys, draw illustrations for books his older brothers were creating, and when he was 19, published his first book, an illustrated guide to the atom.
In October, 2000, Sendak was reflecting on his long and varied career in children's literature and pointed out
When I was younger, the children's book industry was small and run by strong women. In the '70s, we became too successful, started making too much money, and we...