Looking back: Maurice Sendak

Maurice Sendak, 82, beloved children’s author and illustrator of the cherished childhood favorites Where the Wild Things Are, Higglety, Pigglety Pop! and Chicken Soup with Rice, isn’t feeling so great these days. “I’m old,” he says. “I’ve been rather sick, to tell you the truth.” But, he adds, “I can make believe I’m well.” Sadly he was too unwell to attend the unveiling of the fifty-year-old mural he painted for the children of a young Manhattan couple in back in 1961. The entire wall, 1,400 pounds in all, was removed and taken to the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia, where it is part of the permanent collection.

Sendak’s mural, a parade of costumed children and animals, is every bit as whimsical as the books that colored our childhood memories, even if the author’s opinion of the world today has turned sour. “I wonder why people still have children,” he says. “I mean, why put kids in the world when the world is so insecure?” While it was never a topic he dealt with in his children’s books, Sendak has been thinking a lot about death lately. “We’re all orphans and all our friends die. It’s the story of life and it stinks. You go on feeling that you failed. I don’t sit here and say, ‘I’ve got all these book and isn’t that nice?’” He admits that the mural is important to him as “it represents a time when I was secure and young and happy.” But he quickly slips back into morbidity. “I didn’t think about dying, about my friends dying.” Still, Sendak continues to work. His latest book, Bumble Ardy, which will be released this coming September, is about a pig who’s never had a birthday party. Does death make an appearance? “Both his parents die on the first page. Don’t ask me what I was thinking.”