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Maurice Sendak dead: ‘Where The Wild Things Are’ author was 83

Dylan Stableford, Yahoo News
The Cutline

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Maurice Sendak in 1985. (AP/File)

Maurice Sendak, the renowned children's author whose books captivated generations of kids and simultaneously scared their parents, has died. He was 83.

Sendak passed away on Tuesday from complications caused by a recent stroke, his editor told the New York Times. He lived in Ridgefield, Conn., with his German shepherd Herman (named after Melville) and was hospitalized in nearby Danbury. According to the Associated Press, Sendak suffered the stroke on Friday.

Sendak wrote and illustrated more than 50 children's books--including "Where the Wild Things Are," his most famous, published in 1963.

The book--about a disobedient boy named Max who, after being sent to his room without supper, creates a surreal world inhabited by wild creatures--won Sendak the coveted Caldecott Medal, the equivalent of a Pulitzer Prize, in 1964. "Where The Wild Things Are" was adapted into a live-action film by Spike Jonze in 2009.

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(HarperCollins)

"Where The Wild Things Are" was not only revolutionary--but it was also wildly profitable, selling more than 17 million copies, according to Bloomberg.com.

Sendak's other groundbreaking works include "In the Night Kitchen," "Outside Over There," "The Sign on Rosie's Door," "Higglety Pigglety Pop!" and "The Nutshell Library." "Bumble-Ardy," his first book in 30 years, was published by HarperCollins last year. A posthumous picture book, "My Brother's Book," is slated for 2012.

Sendak "transformed children's literature from a gentle playscape into a medium to address the psychological intensity of growing up," the Washington Post said in an obituary.

His "unsentimental approach to storytelling revolutionized the genre," the Los Angeles Times said.

"In book after book," the New York Times wrote, "Mr. Sendak upended the staid, centuries-old tradition of American children's literature, in which young heroes and heroines were typically well scrubbed and even better behaved; nothing really bad ever happened for very long; and everything was tied up at the end in a neat, moralistic bow."

That's why, perhaps, Sendak could never break free from being labeled a children's book author, despite his exploration of darker themes.

"A woman came up to me the other day and said, 'You're the kiddie-book man!'" Sendak told Vanity Fair last year. "I wanted to kill her."

[ VIDEO: 'Where The Wild Things Are,' as read by Christopher Walken ]

"I write books as an old man," Sendak said in a 2003 interview. "But in this country you have to be categorized, and I guess a little boy swimming in the nude in a bowl of milk can't be called an adult book. So I write books that seem more suitable for children, and that's OK with me. They are a better audience and tougher critics. Kids tell you what they think, not what they think they should think."

In January, Sendak appeared on "The Colbert Report," giving Stephen Colbert some advice on how to make it as a children's book author. "You've started already by being an idiot," Sendak said.

"I don't write for children," Sendak told Colbert. "I write, and then someone says, 'That's for children.'"

"Sendak understood," Slate observed, "that kids need literature that makes adults uncomfortable. They need books that reflect their chaotic and dark worlds, in which sometimes children do have to feed their mothers."

He also didn't mince words. After Colbert pointed out that Newt Gingrich said American children don't have a great work ethic, Sendak said, "Newt Gingrich is an idiot of great renown. There is something so hopelessly gross and vile about him, it's hard to take him seriously."

President Barack Obama has made it something of a tradition to read from "Where The Wild Things Are" at the annual White House Easter Egg Roll. "I know every parent must be a little bit in mourning today and every child who grew up with that book," White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One on Tuesday. "It's a sad day."

In the clip below, Obama, flanked by first lady Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha, reads from the book in 2009 on the South Lawn.

Sendak was heavily involved in Jonze's film adaptation. "He was involved in every aspect," Dave Eggers, who co-wrote the script, said. "Maurice really trusted Spike to do the book justice, and not to be afraid of the book and not to be too reverent."

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