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RIP Maurice Sendak

May 14, 2012

I didn’t fully appreciate him until becoming an adult, perhaps proving his argument that he wasn’t the children’s author that people always thought. Like lots of people, i was raised on “Where the Wild Things Are” and used the term “wild rumpus” as often as possible but never took the effort to search out his other works. Not until a few years ago did i discover this wonderful book about him, written by none other than Tony Kushner (author of the play Angels in America, which was turned into the most beautiful miniseries of all time).

It opened my eyes to not only his sexuality, which did slightly blow my mind, but also his diverse body of work. On top of illustrating and writing his own books, he was also an illustrator for hire, a set-designer and costumer. Now, i have always loved everything about the Nutcracker. I never saw the ballet as a youngster, but the music and the story always thrilled me. After seeing the costumes and design work he did for a touring performance of it in 1983, my whole concept of what that show could look like was thrown out the window and replace with Sendak’s image of a giant, grimacing, horrifying and powerful Nutcracker visage.

The depth he brought to work typically aimed at children is what makes him such a lasting figure. Like Bill Watterson (creator of  Calvin & Hobbes), Michael Ende (author of The Neverending Story), Lewis Carroll and the poet William Blake, he discussed very heavy ideas about life, death, eternity, politics and the plasticity of reality in ways that were accessible to young people and at the same time challenging to older people; feeding young people ideas others might try to protect them from while simultaneously reminding adults about the wonders some of us have grown away from.

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