Five (Wild) Things You Didn’t Know About Maurice Sendak

It’s the summer of Sendak here in New York, with the Society of Illustrators celebrating the beloved children’s book artist, who died last year at the age of 83, with an exhibit of more than 200 never-before-seen Sendak originals (on view through August 17). Over at the New York Public Library, “The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter” exhibition (on view through March 2014) devotes an entire wall to a giant, furry, and unmistakable silhouette of one of the “Wild Things” encountered and conquered by young Max. We scoured the gorgeous Abrams book that accompanies the former exhibition—and particularly the chapter contributed by children’s book expert Leonard S. Marcus, who happens to have curated the latter show—to bring you this handful of fun facts.

1. Sendak honed his drawing skills at a young age, while looking out from the window of his family’s Brooklyn apartment and “making endless sketches of the children playing in the streets below,” writes Marcus in Maurice Sendak: A Celebration of the Artist and His Work, “drawings that recorded not only the children’s body language and facial expressions but also their emotional weather.”

2. He skipped college and went right from high school to a job as the assistant window decorator at FAO Schwarz on New York’s Fifth Avenue.

3. Sendak’s close friend and editor Ursula Nordstrom, who Marcus describes as “America’s most daring publisher of books for young people,” planned early on to pair Sendak with Margaret Wise Brown (Goodnight Moon), but she died suddenly in 1952 at the age of 42 before the two could even meet, much less collaborate.

4. Among the Connecticut circle of friends that Sendak met through his mentors, writer Ruth Krauss (The Carrot Seed) and her husband, Crockett Johnson (Harold and the Purple Crayon), was “a couple whose young son dressed for bed in fanciful leopard pajamas, complete with big-cat ears and tail,” writes Marcus, with a nod to the scrappy kid-hero of Where the Wild Things Are.

5. Notes Marcus, “Having decided that he did not draw horses well enough, Sendak realized that if he called his characters ‘things’ he could make them look any way he wished.”