'Where the Wild Things Are' author Maurice Sendak dies

NEW YORK Wed May 9, 2012 2:16am IST

1 of 2. Actor Catherine Keener kisses author Maurice Sendak as director Spike Jonze (R) and actor Forest Whitaker (L) look on before the premiere of the film 'Where The Wild Things Are' in New York October 13, 2009.

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - American writer and illustrator Maurice Sendak, whose children's book "Where the Wild Things Are" has been a standard bedtime story for at least three generations, has died at the age of 83.

Sendak, credited with elevating children's book art to a new level and adding an edginess and real life elements, died during the night at Danbury Hospital in Connecticut of complications from a recent stroke, a hospital spokesperson said on Tuesday.

He lived in nearby Ridgefield, Connecticut.

"Sendak really was the pre-eminent artist in the field of children's literature," said Ann Neely, professor of children's literature at Peabody College, Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

"He was never sappy. He said it as he saw it, and looking back on his work it is really quite astonishing. He influenced the introduction of fine art to children, because that is what picture books are," she added in an interview.

Playwright Tony Kushner once described Sendak "as one of the most important, if not the most important, writers and artists to ever work in children's literature."

Generations of children grew up enjoying his work. He illustrated his first book, "The Wonderful Farm" in 1951 and his last was published in 2011.

"We are terribly saddened at the passing of Maurice Sendak. He was a glorious author and illustrator, an amazingly gifted designer, a blisteringly funny raconteur, a fierce and opinionated wit, and a loyal friend to those who knew him," Susan Katz, publisher of HarperCollins Children's Books, which published his books, said in a statement.

"His talent is legendary; his mind and breadth of knowledge equally so," Katz said.

"Every once in a while, someone comes along who changes our world for the better. Maurice Sendak was such a man," she added.

Sendak, who was born in Brooklyn in 1928, was dubbed by one critic as the Picasso of children's books. He illustrated more than 50 books during a long career and won a number of prizes for his drawings.

The Queen of Sweden presented him the Hans Christian Andersen Award for children's book illustration in 1970.

ACCLAIM FOR 'WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE'

Sendak, who was a sickly child, spent much of his time indoors. He enjoyed books and drew throughout high school. He became a professional illustrator after working briefly as a window dresser at the F.A.O. Schwarz toy store in New York and taking classes at the New York Art Students League.

In 1963, he won international acclaim with "Where the Wild Things Are" about a boy who imagines a world of toothy monsters.

The following year the American Library Association awarded him the prestigious Caldecott Medal for illustrations in that book, which was made into a film by director Spike Jonze in 2009.

Dozens of other children's books followed, including "In the Night Kitchen" in 1970, which is dedicated to his parents, and "Outside Over There" in 1981.

In 1996, then-President Bill Clinton awarded Sendak the National Medal of Arts.

Sendak also worked as a costume and stage designer for operas by Ravel, Mozart and others.

"Bumble-Ardy," the first book in three decades in which he did both illustrations and text, was released in September by HarperCollins Publishers.

Sendak worked on the book while caring for his partner, Eugene Glynn, who died of cancer in 2007.

"I have nothing now but praise for my life. I'm not unhappy. I cry a lot because I miss people. They die and I can't stop them. They leave me and I love them more," Sendak said in an interview last year on Fresh Air with Terry Gross on NPR radio.

"There are so many beautiful things in the world which I will have to leave when I die, but I'm ready, I'm ready, I'm ready."

(Reporting by Patricia Reaney and Barbara Goldberg; editing by Vicki Allen and Todd Eastham)

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