You know, books are SO fantastic and seem to take on a life of their own when you read them. So it’s easy to forget that behind every great book is an even greater author. So this page celebrates our favourite authors! There’s a fact file for them: when and where they were born, why and when they started writing, where they went to school, even some fascinating facts and funny quotes! Please share with me YOUR favourite authors, and I’ll share mine!
This month I want to honour the great Maurice Sendak who died just this year. Maurice Sendak wasn’t just an Amazing Author; he was also an Amazing Artist! He was also a rebel who shocked a lot of mums and dads with his drawings and stories – but children have always just loved him and his books, perhaps because he understood children so well. Like the Grimm Brothers’ Fairy Tales he read as a child, his stories are filled with the extremes of things that are scary and things that are beautiful, angry feelings and feeling guilty about being angry. And the pictures are very, very special!
Maurice Sendak (1928 – 2012)
When and where born: Maurice Sendak was born in 1928 in Brooklyn in New York in the United States of America, to Jewish parents who had recently emigrated from Poland. His dad was a dressmaker, and he was the youngest of three children, two boys and an older sister.
Childhood: Maurice was often sick as child with serious illnesses like scarlet fever and pneumonia, so he spent a lot of time at home reading books, drawing and imagining. His dad and his brother were great story-tellers, and when Maurice was just six he and his brother wrote their first story together. He loved cartoons, especially Mickey Mouse, and films like King Kong. But his childhood was unhappy. While he was growing up in Brooklyn, his family relatives back in Poland were dying in the Holocaust of World War II, and he was surrounded by the terrible grief and suffering of his parents and their friends. This made a very deep impression on the sensitive and artistic boy, and his sadness and fear as a child was to shape all of his writing in the future.
School days: Maurice hated school, where he was bullied as a “sissy”, and he especially disliked school rules. However at the age of 12, he went with his family to see Walt Disney’s FANTASIA, and decided immediately that he would be an illustrator when he grew up. At high school he drew a comic strip for the school newspaper and also worked part-time for All American Comics. In his final year at school, he drew the illustrations for a physics textbook “Atomics for the Millions” that was published in 1947.
How he began writing and illustrating books: Maurice never went to college, but started work straight after leaving school as a window dresser for a department store. He worked there for four years while taking art classes at night. During this time he got his first commission to illustrate a children’s book, and soon afterwards he left his job to become a full time freelance children’s illustrator. He was to illustrate 74 books for other writers in his lifetime, and from 1956 he also wrote and illustrated 18 books himself.
But it was the fifth book which he wrote and illustrated, Where the Wild Things Are, which was to make him most famous. It was published in 1963 and the very next year won the famous Caldecott Medal. The book went on to become one of the top ten children’s best-sellers of all time!
During his long lifetime he went on to win many major prizes in children’s literature including the Hans Christian Andersen Medal for Illustration in 1970 and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award in 1983. In 1996 he was awarded a National Medal of the Arts for his contribution to the arts in the United States.
Maurice moved from New York City to the countryside in Connecticut in the early 1970s where he lived until his death this year. He never married, but lived for 50 years with his partner and best friend Eugene and his beloved dogs. He died this year at the age of 83 on the 8th of May 2012. In his New York Times obituary, he was called “the most important children’s book artist of the 20th Century”.
- the name “Wild Thing” is a rough translation of “Vilde Chayea“, a Yiddish term that Jewish mums often yell at naughty boys;
- Maurice Sendak’s drawings were inspired by his childhood in Brooklyn, but also the Grimm Brothers’ fairy stories and Mozart’s operas;
- he used to write in complete silence, but draw to the music of Mozart;
- when he first thought up the story of “Where the Wild Things Are” it was going to be “Where the Wild Horses Are” but when it became clear that he wasn’t any good at drawing horses, his editor suggested that he changed the horses to “things”!
- the “Things” he then drew in his famous book were inspired by his “hideous beastly relatives” who used to come for dinner every Sunday afternoon when he was a child, pinching his cheeks and eating all the food in the house!
- a good friend said of Maurice Sendak “Maurice is rather courtly in his dealings with other people, except when provoked, and even then he merely bares his teeth and growls…”
- although he never went to college, he was an encyclopaedia of knowledge about poetry, fiction, painting and music;
- Maurice Sendak was a key member of the Board which oversaw the development of the Sesame Street series on TV!
“I find children on the whole more direct and honest (than adults) but being a child doesn’t automatically make one superior. Although usually it does.”
“I don’t write for children. I don’t write for adults. I just write.”
“I’m totally crazy…that’s …what makes my work good…I do it because I can’t not do it”.
“When Mozart is playing in my room, I am in conjunction with something I can’t explain…I don’t need to. I know that if there’s a purpose for life, it was for me to hear Mozart”.
About E-Books: “I hate them…there isn’t ‘another kind of book’. A book is a book.” I completely agree with Maurice Sendak!
“There’s so much more to a book than just the reading. I’ve seen children touch books, fondle books, smell books, and it’s all the reason in the world why books should be beautifully produced.”
Read more about the unique, wonderful Maurice Sendak on these websites:
- one of the best kid-friendly websites to visit is: http://childrensbooks.about.com/cs/authorsillustrato/a/sendakartistry.htm
- there are some amazing pictures about Maurice and his life and books on http://www.guardian.co.uk/childrens-books-site/gallery/2012/may/08/maurice-sendak-gallery#/?picture=389812948&index=14
- and some wonderful obituaries at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/09/books/maurice-sendak-childrens-author-dies-at-83.html?pagewanted=all and http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/culture-obituaries/books-obituaries/9252498/Maurice-Sendak.html
FOR MORE AMAZING AUTHORS, SEE THE TAB ON THE RIGHT HAND SIDE OF THIS PAGE!