Eating breakfast with my 16 year old son this morning, I mentioned that I had just read that Maurice Sendak died today at 83 years old. "What?" he gasped! "That's sad. Really sad." His reaction came directly from his gut and heart and mirrored mine- one of shock followed by sadness. How could Maurice Sendak die? Ever?
How do you thank someone you never met in real life? Maurice Sendak was instrumental to my becoming a children's book illustrator. Not just because I grew up with his books, in fact his influence came much later. After I illustrated my first book, Mud, my editor, Allyn Johnston, sent me a gorgeous manuscript, Scarecrow, I went into an identity crisis. How could I illustrate children's books when my goal for so many years was to be included in the Whitney Biennial someday? Then an artist friend of mine invited me over for a critique of her newest body of work. Large canvases with giant brightly colored babies floating on them greeted me as I entered her studio. Though the subject was babies, it had nothing to do with children or children's books. During the course of our conversation she shared with me the early influences that drove her to become an artist. From her bookcase she pulled a huge monograph. The Art of Maurice Sendak, by Selma G. Lanes. She also made a pile on her drafting table of all of her favorite childhood picture books. These beautiful books painted by illustrators were what inspired her to become an artist. She let me borrow the Sendak monograph, which I read from cover to cover and within a week the wisdom of Maurice Sendak had assured me that being a children's book author/illustrator was a worthy thing to be. I have my own copy of this book now, along with a collection of most of Maurice Sendak's books on my shelves for inspiration when I am illustrating my own books. Looking at my bookshelves, I see that Maurice is snug between the painters Milton Avery and William Blake, with books on the art of David Hockney, Rodin, Terry Winters, and Giotto nearby. He is in good company.
"Fantasy is so all-pervasive--- I don't think there's any part of our lives, as adults or children, when we're not fantasizing, but we prefer to relegate that activity to children, as if fantasy were some tomfoolery only fit for immature minds. Children do live in both fantasy and reality; they move back and forth with ease, in a way that we no longer remember how to do. And writing for children I always assume that they have this incredible flexibility, this cool sense of the logic of illogic, and that they can move with me from one sphere to the other without any problems. Fantasy is the core of all writing for children, as I think it is for the writing of any book--- perhaps even the act of living... There are many kinds of fantasy and levels of fantasy and subtleties of fantasy--- there is probably no such thing as creativity without fantasy."
-- Maurice Sendak
Thank you, Maurice Sendak.