Sendak had great influence over children’s literature

Author Maurice Sendak, who fearlessly wrote about monsters, kidnappings and runaways, left a huge ho

Author Maurice Sendak, who fearlessly wrote about monsters, kidnappings and runaways, left a huge hole when he died Tuesday, local writers and librarians said.

“I don’t see anybody following in his footsteps,” said local children’s books author Bruce Hiscock. “It was unique to him.”

Sendak, who wrote “Where the Wild Things Are” and many other books, died Tuesday morning after a stroke. While many focused on the words in his books, local authors and illustrators said Sendak’s genius lay in his drawings.

In “Wild Things,” Hiscock said, the words of the angry boy who is sent to bed without dinner are just the beginning.

“It’s a wonderfully designed book, too,” he said. “It starts with part of the page illustrated. Then, in the fantasy, the illustrations get bigger and bigger until there’s no writing.”

Hiscock was particularly impressed by Sendak’s ink drawings in the Brothers Grimm stories he illustrated.

At a chance encounter years ago, Hiscock asked Sendak about the intricate work and was surprised when Sendak said the tiny drawings were reproduced at the exact size he’d drawn them.

“I was amazed he had done them at life size,” Hiscock said. “He could only get a few hundred strokes out of the pen before the point was too wide. He used thousands of pen-points.”

Sendak also impressed readers with his willingness to show childhood in all its glory, including a boy who delights in being naked and another who throws a magnificent temper tantrum.

“He seemed to understand storylines that kids would find delightful,” said Janet Hutchison, owner of the Open Door Bookstore in Schenectady.

“Wild Things” and “The Nutshell Library” were among her favorites to read to her children and grandchildren, she said, because they were always fun.

“He just never lost touch with that,” she said.

Serena Butch, children’s librarian for the Schenectady County Public Library, said the books perhaps succeeded because adults liked them, too. Unlike many children’s books, Sendak’s books could be read again and again.

“They were sophisticated. You really could look at the books on a lot of levels,” she said.

She recalled that when she first started working as a librarian in the 1970s, “Wild Things” was not popular.

“People thought the book was too scary and you shouldn’t read it to kids,” she said, adding, “And the kids loved it!”

In the book, Max runs away from home on a makeshift boat after being sent to bed without dinner for being too “wild.” He meets monsters, but instead of being traumatized, he becomes their king.

“It becomes a positive experience for him,” Butch said. “The wild things are menacing, but they’re not scary like monsters. Parents sometimes don’t see what kids see.”

Local children’s author Karen Pandell recalled that when she first read “Wild Things” to children, they immediately connected with “wild” Max and his wild things.

“They roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth,” she said. “It was a magical experience.”

They didn’t seem scared of the monsters at all.

“I just think that kids have a side to them that is wild and untamed and that frees them up to experience that,” she said. “It’s one of the best picture books in existence.”

Other books he wrote at that time were excellent, too, she said. But his latest works were more abstract and cerebral, and Pandell and Hiscock said those books didn’t resonate with children.

Still, Pandell said, he had a unique touch.

“He wasn’t afraid of the dark side of childhood,” she said.

She noted that fairy tales used to involve much darker topics, with everything from wolves to witches stalking children and trying to eat them.

“But as we got more into the 20th century, people were trying to protect children,” she said. “He got back to the roots of storytelling. He opened the door back to fairy tales again.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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