Maurice Sendak: Monsters Were My Aunts and Uncles
Written By Savvy Auntie Staff Writers
by Lauren Rogoff
Maurice Sendak, considered by many to be the most important children’s book artist of the 20th century, passed away on May 8. His work inspired an entire era of children born around 1960 and afterwards, and was so influential in the lives of these children as they grew up that they passed it along to the next generation, including our nieces and nephews.
Sendak’s tales threw the world of the illustrated children’s book out of the pleasant, sanitized world of nursery tales, softness and light. Sendak’s characters were whimsical, exciting, and at times, darkly terrifying and a little scary. His most famous book, the 1963 classic Where the Wild Things Are, tells the adventures of Max, whose mother sends him to his room without supper, whereupon he embarks on an adventure filled with the ‘wild things,’ mythical creatures that are fascinating and completely original.
Sendak has said that the monsters in the book were inspired by his aunts and uncles. Growing up, young Maurice was often sick, stuck in bed or looking out his window and getting flashes story ideas from the children he saw playing. "I went back into my head as to who were monsters in my life," Sendak has recalled. "Well, they were all my uncles and aunts." Sendak has described his aunts and uncles the way he remembered them from childhood, hovering over his sickbed: "Bloodshot eyes and big huge noses and bad teeth, and they would grab you by the cheek and pummel you and say all the conventional things like, 'I'll eat you up,' and knowing them, they probably would and could," he recalled. We know you inspire your nieces and nephews by sharing these original tales with them, instead of scaring them!
Maurice Sendak has and will continue to influence nieces and nephews, by showing them that difficult situations can be okay, and making them comfortable with ideas like desertion, monsters, and what happens when you go to sleep. Many of Sendak’s relatives perished during the Holocaust in World War II, and this awareness, as well as his childhood illness led to darker influences in his work, including a cognizance that the very young could die. He told NPR in 1993: "Children surviving childhood is my obsessive theme and my life's concern." His books have enduring appeal, as kids feel understood and grow up to pass the beloved work on to their children, nieces and nephews.
Celebrate the wonderful, magical work of Maurice Sendak by sharing one of his stories with your niece or nephew today!
Published: May 11, 2012