in memoriam

Maurice Sendak

Maurice Sendak, 1928-2012

Maurice Sendak, a literary giant whose works impacted children of all ages (even the grown ones), died today at the age of 83, due to complications that arose from a recent stroke. I write a lot about “essential” books that every child should have in their home library, but, when I look at my past posts, I realize that I haven’t written that much about Sendak and I think I know why. I think I sometimes forget to mention Sendak or recommend his books, because it just seems like a foregone conclusion to me that EVERYONE knows that you MUST read Maurice Sendak. They don’t need me convincing them to pick up a copy of Where the Wild Things Are or In the Night Kitchen. There is something – or there SHOULD be something – just imprinted in our animal DNA that draws us to Sendak’s works. We recognize the emotions, the expressions, the empathy that are all clearly apparent on the faces of his characters and we connect to them on a deeply resonant level.

Where the Wild Things Are

My daughter, at age 1 1/2, at the Maurice Sendak exhibit at Philadelphia's Please Touch Children's Museum. You might recognize this image from the header of this blog.

I keep mentioning that The Phantom Tollbooth was the first book that I ever bought for my daughter, but, what I don’t mention is that I didn’t have to buy her a copy of Where the Wild Things Are because I already had a copy, a copy that I’d bought for myself. As I prepared to leave home for the first time to head for college, for whatever reason, after I was done buying myself bedsheets, a TV, and a computer, I bought myself a hardcover edition of Where the Wild Things Are to keep in my dorm room. And I don’t really know why. Maybe it was something to help me remember my childhood. Maybe it was the equivalent of a literary security blanket. Maybe I was hoping to look deep to college girls and subtly let them know that I was ready to let the “wild rumpus start.” But, my strange motivations aside, I think it says a lot that I couldn’t picture living alone, in my own living space for the first time in my life, without a copy of Where the Wild Things Are ready and available to me whenever I needed it.

That’s the real magic of Sendak. He has so woven his stories into our collective unconscious that it now seems bizarre that there ever were generations in the past that didn’t have Where the Wild Things Are, In the Night Kitchen, or Outside Over There available for their children. While I’m happy that the world will always have his books to cherish for eons to come, I’d admit, it does feel very strange to no longer have the man himself, creating new and vibrant works and constantly reminding children to “Live your life, live your life, live your life.”

As a small tribute to the memory of the great man, I assembled this brief collection of videos that, I think, do a nice job of really showing the universal impact, importance, and grand, unfettered joy of Maurice Sendak and his wonderful works. He will be missed.

Tell Them Anything You Want is a fantastic 40-minute documentary on Sendak assembled by Spike Jonze and Lance Bangs, which was released to accompany Jonze’s 2009 big-screen, live-action version of Where the Wild Things Are. This is long, but beautiful – with some wonderful interviews with Sendak himself. [UPDATE: Earlier today, I embedded a link to a full version of Tell Them Anything You Want on YouTube. That link has since been removed due to a copyright claim. In its place, until they take it down, I present this still-pretty-cool, 5-minute excerpt from the documentary.)

Anyone who ever debated Sendak‘s cultural importance should watch this great video of President Obama reading Where the Wild Things Are at the 2009 White House Easter Egg Roll.

A longer excerpt of some spirited interviews with Sendak talking about his life and career, which is taken from a DVD released by the Rosenbach Museum & Library in Philadelphia, which is the “sole repository of the original artwork of famed author and illustrator Maurice Sendak and a foremost authority on all things Sendak.”

Anita Silvey, the children’s lit expert behind one of my favorite websites, The Book-a-Day Almanac, gives a wonderful overview of Maurice Sendak‘s personal history and literary career. This is a nice introduction to Sendak for those who don’t know much about the man behind his famous works.

[read the rest of the post…]


Sometimes the world is a weirdly bittersweet and wonderful place. I spent most of this evening typing out a long tribute to The One and Only Marigold, a picture book that I dearly love and a book that my daughter adores. As I finished the article and began searching for hyperlinks to accompany the text, I saw on the internet that it was just announced that Florence Parry Heide, the author of the book, had passed away in her sleep last night. She was an amazing 92 years old and authored over 80 children’s books during her prolific career. What an amazing woman and what a huge loss for children’s literature.

Lane Smith helps his collaborator on Princess Hyacinth (The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated) (Random/Schwartz & Wade), Florence Parry Heide, celebrate her 90th birthday at ALA.

Lane Smith helps his collaborator on Princess Hyacinth (The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated) (Random/Schwartz & Wade), Florence Parry Heide, celebrate her 90th birthday.

I had the pleasure to meet her once in 2009 and she couldn’t have been more charming. So, in tribute of the favorite daughter of Kenosha, Wisconsin and an author that has created far too many books that my daughter has fallen in love with, I offer this heartfelt tribute to The One and Only Marigold and of Florence Parry Heide herself. Honestly. If you love great children’s books, pick up ANY of her titles and you’ll be happy you did.

My tribute to The One and Only Marigold now feels a bit self-indulgent – Mrs. Heide deserves a better elegy than I could ever write – but I want to leave my original article pretty much intact to simply show off the sheer fanboy-ish glee that this wonderful woman inspired in a grouchy thirty-something dad. You will be missed, Mrs. Heide.

And now, onto The One and Only Marigold


As I’ve mentioned before, when looking for books for my daughter, my favorite thing in the world is the unexpected surprise. I LOVE stumbling upon a book I’ve never heard of before and having that moment of discovery – like all the secret knowledge of the world has just fallen into my lap.

Now the hilarious irony of these moments is that, usually, when I have them, I’ve accidentally “discovered” something that is already WIDELY known and HUGELY famous. The only person that hasn’t heard of these titles yet is ME. I call them my “Christopher Columbus” moments. I charge ahead and plant a flag on a book, screaming, “LOOK WHAT MY GRAND INSIGHT HAS PLUCKED FROM OBSCURITY! I CLAIM THEE!” And, then, after a proud few moments, someone normally takes me aside and quietly explains that the book was a best-seller, won the Newbery Award, and has been the subject of 10 movie adaptations (5 of which I’ve probably seen).

The One and Only Marigold

The One and Only Marigold

Case in point – I have that oblivious sense of discovery pride about The One and Only Marigold by Florence Parry Heide and Jill McElmurry. However, I think I’m mostly just happy that I lucked into finding such a delightful picture book, because finding Marigold not only introduced us to a wonderful book, but it also introduced us to the great Florence Parry Heide, who quickly became one of our favorite authors.

I’m not going to try to recount Mrs. Heide’s insanely impressive resume here – try this link or that link for some background – but her prolific career that has included collaborations with a breathtaking variety of authors and artists including Edward Gorey, Sylvia Van Clief, Jules Feiffer, and Lane Smith. She even has her own holiday in her hometown of Kenosha, Wisconsin. And, like an idiot, I hadn’t heard of her until 2009.

I was attending the American Library Association Annual Conference in Chicago and had been hunting the convention floor for a copy of Princess Hyacinth: The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated, a picture book that I’d heard raves about and that had artwork by Lane Smith – one of my favorite illustrators ever since I first read The Stinky Cheese-Man. When I finally found the table where Lane Smith was signing copies of the book, I was introduced to a charming older woman, who, as it turns out, actually wrote Princess Hyacinth. This was Florence Parry Heide.

[Note: If you don’t already own Princess Hyacinth, go buy it now. Right now. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Honestly, it’s that good. I’ll do a write-up of it one day, but Marigold didn’t nearly get the same level of popular attention as Princess Hyacinth, so it can wait. Oh, and her books with Edward Gorey are fantastic too. OK, more on Florence Parry Heide soon.] [read the rest of the post…]

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