Guide Who Was Maurice Sendak? (Who Was?)

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REHM How did you recover from that, internally.

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One, I knew how good it was. I knew how good it was. Honestly, that would not have sufficed because I neither had the inner strength nor the outer clout to have survived that. I did have Ursula Nordstrom, who was my editor, who was one of the bravest, toughest, most marvelous human beings that every lived and she pulled me up short and she taught me a lesson about living and critics and surviving.

She reminded me of what had happened during the book and the joy it had given me and her to work together on this thing and she was not going to have me backslide. And the fact that "In The Night Kitchen" was the next book proves clearly that I was not frightened after a certain point. They were covering up his genitalia in when it was a breakthrough that there was a naked kid.

We had not intended, neither me nor Ursula, to have anything so asininely controversial. That seemed to be the least of the book. The fact that it became the most important aspect of the book was embarrassing because it's a work I love and it was a serious work.

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It took seven years to bring about after "Where the Wild Things Are" and then to have all the fuss over his penis was humiliating, quite frankly. Now it continues. The same atmosphere. This is a minority thing.

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It's not a majority thing. But it's enough to constantly irk you and depress you, that people will not see the size of the book and will diminish it. And, of course, if you -- a teacher or whoever does the magic markering over Mickey's privates, all you're doing is having little children hold the book up to the light to see what in hell has been covered up and then drawing their attention to exactly what they wish to detract them from.

SENDAK If they just let it alone, since children are -- the rather enjoy their bodies until perhaps later we teach them not to, for some obscure reason. They just go right the book. They don't even notice it, except maybe a little girl will titter. That's about the worst you'll get. But they have such a clean comprehension and appreciation of their bodies. That is not their problem. REHM I'm sure from time to time, you have been in situations where you could debate librarians about this issue?

Yep, I certainly have and it's frightening sometimes, the mindsets on these people. On the obdurate idea that I did it for scandalous reasons, for self aggrandizement, to draw attention to myself and -- that's hard to take. But the book still goes. I hope you enjoy. REHM I said to you when you first came in the studio, you had been scheduled to come in here ten years ago.

REHM I've been doing this show now for 12 years. You were scheduled to come in here in , after "Outside Over There" had been published. And at the end of your tour, you were supposed to come here and you fell ill I was so disappointed. It's the only time in my entire career that I have saved a script. And I went back to my files and pulled out that script and there it was. REHM I will show it to you. But it's an interesting association on your part, and I can see the connection.

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It was really a romance I was involved with, with romantic painting -- early German romantic painting of the 19th century, falling quite in love with it. And I wanted to take from that as much as possible and bury my powerful theme from "Outside Over There" into a very lush and romantic setting -- not so different from that novel that you mentioned. And that's what I achieved in that book, or tried to achieve. That was the last of the trilogy. It's a trilogy in the sense of what I described to you earlier of a peculiar, exquisite moment in the child's life.

It may take a half a second -- Momma and Papa may not even notice it even happened -- where that kid has to make a decision based on no logic, no experience, but only trust and love.

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He can count on that from his parents. And he has to take a dive and do something a little bit illogical. Max runs up against his mother, gets punished for it and has this inflammatory fantasy about the wild things.

Mickey takes a dive literally, and trusts that he's going to land safe and accomplish something. Ida, she's the eldest, and her problem is much more complicated. So it's really the three of us basically.

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And how each book gets more complicated, because each child gets a little bit older. And Ida being the eldest, her complexity of -- I love that book so much because I could enter into my sister's spirit. But that is disappointing to me, but it has never relaxed my hold on that book in terms of what I know what I've accomplished in it as an artist. It does not have a clear, precise ending. It is not a happy book in the way people think children's books ought to be -- upbeat and happy. It tells a story that is rather somber, but to me very beautiful.

But I was in a position of artistic control at this point, that I wasn't going to miss doing it.

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  • And since I didn't count on sales of books, that wasn't part of my career plan. You can only be disappointed not in the lack of sales but in the lack of appreciation for what you feel, as an artist, is the very best that you have to give. Hoffman's "Nutcracker" with the interpretive illustrations -- pictures, as he calls them You described your own childhood as, in places I've seen, as not a terribly happy one. Less outgoing than we would expect children to be, you were a sickly young fellow.

    But I think it has to be put in perspective that I was a '30s baby. And there was no sulfa drugs or penicillin. So I wasn't so strangely sick. It was that most of us were. You know, we got the whooping cough and scarlet fever and pneumonia, dreadful diseases. And lots of us didn't make it. It left my heart permanently damaged. But as a matter of fact, it was fairly typical of the time. What was perhaps untypical was the awareness on my part, from a very early age, that I was so fragile I might not live.

    So I overheard my mother's prayers and tears and conversations about the loss -- the potential loss of me and how delicate. I knew I could die at too early an age when children might suspect that, or when children are more concerned about the loss of their mothers and fathers or their dogs and their cats or their grandmas, but not of themselves. That came too early.

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    • But I don't blame them for that, because they were very straightforward people. They didn't spare me anything. And it's somehow what I've done to my audience, too. I've been very clear and straight, in a way that has, you know You shouldn't be this clear to children.

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      But, see, I've never set out to write books for children. I never set out to do -- this is my life's work. I'm going to write just for children. I didn't categorize myself. And I've never categorized them, because I was never categorized as a child. My father and mother told us everything they could tell us to prepare us for life.

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      And that somehow went into the body of work that I did. So to be shoved into a little ghetto of kiddy book land is irritating and I refuse to be there. REHM What does that mean, your mother and father told you everything you needed to know to be prepared for life?