HOW MANY PJ LIBRARY PARENTS grew up looking at the fantastic, magical images of Maurice Sendak? The award-winning author’s most famous children’s piece, Where the Wild Things Are, sold over 19 million copies, making Sendak one of the most widely read Jewish authors of our time.
Maurice Sendak (1928-2012) passed away this week, leaving behind a legacy in children’s literature. The esteem of Sendak’s long list of literary awards (which includes the Caldecott Medal and the Hans Christian Andersen Award) is eclipsed this week by the overwhelming personal admiration of his fans and readers.
We at PJ Library honor the legacy of Maurice Sendak. Many of us enjoyed having his books read to us as children, and many of us now enjoy reading his books aloud to our own children.
“Maurice Sendak will certainly be remembered for his creativity and out-of-the-box thinking,” says PJ Library Book Selection Committee chair Chris Barash. “From his earliest work in children’s literature, it was clear that he would open doors that no one else had dared to open. In this, he never disappointed. His contributions to literature will live on for many generations to come.”
JEWISH ROOTS & CONTRIBUTIONS
In her news piece, “Maurice Sendak, Author of Splendid Nightmares, Dies at 83,” New York Times writer Margalit Fox references Sendak’s general popularity. “Sendak’s books were essential ingredients of childhood for the generation born after 1960 or thereabouts,” she writes, “and in turn for their children.”
What may not be immediately clear, however, was the influence of Mr. Sendak’s Jewish background on his work. MyJewishLearning associate editor Matthue Roth shares a bit of that Jewish background in his piece, “Maurice Sendak.”
As Roth explains, Sendak was the child of Polish, Jewish immigrants. He grew up listening to “nonlinear storytelling with Yiddish-specked sentences,” according to Roth.
According to a Washington Post writer Becky Krystal, Sendak once said, “The Holocaust has run like a river of blood through all my books.” Krystal explains that for Sendak, “as the child of Jewish immigrants from Poland, the Nazi death camps were never far from his mind.”
Indeed, as Marc Tracy of Table Magazine writes, “Sendak’s life and work are pretty inseparable from his Jewishness.” The PJ Library program says “goodbye” to Mr. Sendak, knowing full well that his life and work, however inseparable from his Jewishness, is also inseparable from children’s literature and, in fact, our childhoods themselves.