I first met Maurice back in the 1950s, when I went up to Harper to meet with their legendary editor Ursula Nordstrom. On taking a look at my samples, she said, “I have a young man inside who you remind me of. Let me bring him out. I think you two should know each other.”
That was Maurice, and the book he had just completed was the Ruth Krauss classic A Hole Is to Dig. I took one look at Maurice’s illustrations and immediately decided that the field for me was political cartoons. What he had already achieved at that time in his early 20s was a cartoony-illustrative style that caught the fun, innocence, trickiness, and wit of childhood: kids running and leaping and tripping and joking. Rather than seem as if they were pictures on the page, they seemed like life itself. He had captured a sense of the moment as it was happening, recognizable to any reader who remembered anything about his or her childhood. In that book and the many books that followed he gradually redefined what a children’s book should look like and what we were to think of the form from here on out. He was a game-changer.
Roger Straus III
In 1973, Farrar, Straus and Giroux published The Juniper Tree, a two-volume collection of Grimm tales translated by Lore Segal and brilliantly illustrated by Maurice Sendak. The Juniper Tree was published and promoted as an adult book. We asked Maurice to go on an author tour, and he agreed, asking me to ride shotgun. That tour became one of the most memorable episodes of my life.
For the first week Maurice told me his life story with insight, honesty, and humor. That story is at the core of his extraordinary work. As we started week two, Maurice said, “Your turn.” No one has ever listened to me with as much perspicacity and empathy.
Looking back on that tour, I think I was most touched by Maurice’s wisdom. That wisdom and his incredible artistic gifts make him one of the giants of our time.
Chris Van Allsburg
Many years ago my wife, an elementary art teacher, brought home a box of picture books from her school library. Her goal was to inspire in me an interest in creating a book of my own.
This effort initially had the opposite effect. With each of the brightly colored, simple, cheerful, childish books I pulled out of the box, my interest and enthusiasm flagged. It appeared picture books were a wasteland, inhospitable to genuine artistic expressions. Finally, at the bottom of the box, I discovered a small book that was unlike the others. It was beautifully illustrated with cross-hatch pen drawings and told a peculiar story about a discontented dog.
This book, Higglety Pigglety Pop, had the virtues of art that were missing in the other volumes. It was personal, it was mysterious, and it was enchanting. It was the inspiration my wife had intended to provide. This little volume made clear to me that a picture book could be as worthy a form of artistic expression as any other discipline.
I had the great satisfaction of recounting this experience to the author himself, when I met Maurice in 1979.
Ordinarily, I would not characterize someone I saw as infrequently as I saw Maurice, a friend. However, friend he was indeed. He possessed a forthrightness and emotional honesty that instantly erased the time that might have passed between our visits or phone calls. It was an emotional honesty and directness that invited the same from me. I always accepted the invitation and found myself engaged not with an infrequently encountered colleague, but with a close and generous confidant.
Maurice could not abide the qualities of artifice, pretense, or calculation in art, nor could he abide them in relationships. This made him a great artist and wonderful friend.
Judy Taylor Hough
It is over 50 years since I first met Maurice, on my “maiden trip” as The Bodley Head’s children’s editor to New York. I so admired his illustrations for The House of Sixty Fathers that I was determined to try to get him to work for us. Maurice kindly invited me to his basement apartment on West 9th Street, where he introduced me to his beloved dog, Jennie, and to his cat. When I confessed that cats make me sneeze, Maurice immediately put his cat out of the window—and I regret to say that it was never seen again. It was, indeed, an early test of friendship.
Six years later The Bodley Head proudly published the British edition of Where the Wild Things Are, and Maurice came to the U.K. for the launch of the book. We traveled north to Newcastle to take part in one of many television programs discussing the now familiar protestations about the book’s “frightening content”—and during the night Maurice had what would turn out to be his first heart attack. Our planned stay for just one night turned into two weeks, before it was safe to move Maurice down to London. It was during that time that I discovered his love of practical jokes, and each day I brought him a gift from the local joke shop—one day a false moustache to attach to his spectacles, another day a puzzle to while away the long hours. One particular present was a small (toy) furry mouse, which we christened Beatrix, after discovering our mutual devotion to Beatrix Potter.
Whenever I visited Maurice over the ensuing years I saw our mouse beside him on his drawing table, but what he never told me was that he had changed its name from Beatrix to Judy. It seems that he took the mouse with him whenever he went away, and when its fur became too bedraggled to travel he took the rock on which it perched. And I have just discovered that, before he died, Maurice made his dear friend Lynn promise that “Judy the mouse” would be cremated with him.
Maurice, we will miss you.
I met Maurice Sendak almost 25 years ago, at a printing company in New Jersey. We were there for the same reasons: he to oversee the printing of a poster for Dear Mili, and me for a picture book: The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau. When we were introduced, he was looking over the large printed sheet for Clousseau. He liked what he saw and said, “You must be a fan of Edy LeGrand.” I’d never heard of him. Maurice scanned the sheet again. “Well, you must be familiar with Andre Helle!” I wrote both the names down. Days later at the New York Public Library, I discovered that I’d been channeling a couple of celebrated French art deco illustrators from the early 1900s. Only Maurice could have made the connection.
A few weeks later, I went to visit him in Connecticut. We were total opposites—in appearance, temperament, background—but we hit it off. Our main thing in common, besides admiring each other’s work, was that we shared a love for that unique art form: the picture book.
That fall, Felix Clousseau was published and I sent him a copy. He called me, very pleased, and told me he thought it should win the Caldecott Medal. Then he paused and said, “Well, no, to be honest, I want Mili to win—but if it doesn’t —I hope it’s Felix.” Who could argue with that?
I first had the honor and privilege of meeting Maurice Sendak in early 1980, when he delivered the original artwork for one of his favorite books, Outside Over There. I remember that first meeting like it was yesterday. The artwork in front of me was supremely beautiful—and a challenge. How could I possibly reproduce it so it would be close to what Maurice had created? No printing method known at that time could do it justice. Maurice and I worked for nearly a year before the book was ready for the world to see.
In the years following, Maurice and Toni Markiet would accompany me to oversee the final printing of many of his other books. These were the best times. We would eat at great restaurants—usually Italian—tell outrageous stories, laugh a lot, and, most significantly, just enjoy one another’s company. We worked on many books together in the last 32 years, including the 25th anniversary edition of Where the Wild Things Are, and the upcoming 50th anniversary edition, which Maurice did get to see a few months ago.
Whenever we visited Maurice at his home, we would not be able to leave until he showed us what he was working on. He was never happy unless he was working. How lucky we were to be there and watch a true master create. Throughout his life, Maurice has been described as generous, courageous, cantankerous, the most important children’s book author of the 20th century, and the person who revolutionized children’s literature, even though he always said he never wrote one children’s book in his life. He was all that and much more. Most importantly for me, he was my friend.
I met Maurice in 1982, when we worked together for the first time. That it was on In Grandpa’s House, his own father’s book, was perhaps a small inkling of what he would come to mean to me. I learned everything I know about how to make a book from Maurice. I also learned how to really read a book, how to look at art, and how to appreciate junk television as its own art form.
When we were on a tour, he called us the Milly and Willy Loman Roadshow. With the exception of the few hours before he went onstage (when he was always astonishingly nervous), we spent a lot of time laughing. Maurice had a wicked, wicked sense of humor. He also had a seemingly bottomless understanding of people—what drove them, what frightened them, what inspired them. It was sometimes nerve-racking to sit opposite him and know he could read every expression on my face. He kept me honest, lent me courage when I needed it, and gave me a small space in his life. How can I ever thank him for that?
So, within the huge vacuum he has left in our world—professional and personal—I am simply grateful we had him at all. How lucky we have all been.
Neither Maurice nor I were born publicists, but we both loved Sebastian Walker, who originated I Saw Esau, but did not live to see the book published. We did the publicity tour in his memory, speaking on platforms all over the United States. Neither of us was in prime condition. Maurice was recovering from an embolism, which meant that he had to keep one leg in the air while he drew the illustrations, and I had recently had both hips replaced. Everyone made the adventure as comfortable as possible. We were treated like royalty, driven to every airport in a limousine and wheeled to every airplane side-by-side in wheelchairs.
He was a delight to be with. He told me the story of his life as we flew over the Grand Canyon. It was a cozy scene, almost like a nursery. There was a thick woolly carpet on the cabin wall, depicting small white clouds gamboling in a bright blue sky, to prevent us hurting our heads in the event of an accident.
We had already done some book-signings in London. For the Harrods signing we dressed up one of my teddy bears as a schoolboy. We bought him a blue schoolboy's cap in the School Uniform department, and he sat between us as we signed the books. Maurice let his pen stray, and I said “Oh, you’ve scribbled on the bear’s foot!” “Don’t worry,” said Maurice, “I’ll turn it into a lion.” There can’t be many bears with a Sendak lion on their foot.
I feel lonely, knowing that he is not here any more, but how characteristic it was of him to depart so quietly in his sleep.
Michael di Capua first introduced me to Maurice Sendak in 1992 while I was the marketing director at HarperCollins. I worked closely with Maurice and Michael on the publication of We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy. Over the next 20 years, I had the great good fortune to work with both of them on a number of remarkable books, including the extraordinary Brundibar.
Several years ago, Michael and I visited Maurice. We arrived and immediately dove into a discussion about the terrifying political landscape and the ignorance it fomented. Then Maurice started telling me about the Wild Things movie, which was in postproduction. Spike Jones was fighting with Warner Bros. execs, who thought it was weird, and said the ending didn’t “test well.” Maurice was gleeful. He loved that Spike Jones had created an original, nonconformist film and was refusing to be edited by a bunch of suits. It was a fitting Sendak fable: if you stay true to your art, the bullies will never win. The story had yet another layer: Maurice had triumphed over all of the bullies who wanted to make a “kiddie flick” out of the book.
We stopped by his drawing table to see Bumble-Ardy. It was heavenly to hear him talk about his work in progress. At the time, Maurice was dealing with a lot of loss, yet you would never have known it from the artwork. The drawings were bursting with life, love, hilarity, and joy.
Before heading home, Michael and I took Maurice out to lunch. We gossiped a bit, touched on some matters of life and love, and finished up with a fabulous apple pie.
When Maurice and Eugene moved to my neighborhood, I was 11. They did what all city guys do when they move to the country. They took up gardening and got themselves a couple of dogs. My brother Peter lived on the property and taught them what would grow here in Connecticut. My job was to help with the puppies. Every day I’d run home from school and play with the dogs or weed the garden with Maurice. He taught me how to weed meticulously. We would spend hours in the dirt while he instilled in me his work ethic: every job should be done right. I’d listen to him recite entire opera librettos, enthusiastically playing each of the roles. We’d talk about painters and books and nature. I didn’t know what he did for a living then, I just knew he told the best stories.
He had this way of connecting everything with art. If we came across a rabbit in the woods, it would lead him to teach me about Beatrix Potter or Caldecott. We’d go into his library and he’d pull out his first edition of Peter Rabbit and show me how a rabbit on paper was as alive as the one we just saw in the woods. For the past 40 years, every day was a lesson I loved. He taught me to live to work.
Anyone who knew and loved Maurice would ask the same question over the years. Is he working? If he was working, he was coping with the demons that plagued him throughout his life; he was happy. Now it seems impossible to think of never again hearing him whistle along to Mozart through the floorboards of his studio late into the night and in the morning finding a supremely beautiful picture on his desk. How did he do it? How could he struggle with the weight of the world during the day and still have this work that’s full of hope pour out of him?
Thank God for all of us he knew how to work.