Maurice Sendak, author and illustrator of the classic Where the Wild Things Are, is one of the most important figures in 20th-century children’s literature, having helped to liberate the genre from its do-gooding shackles with tales of gleefully misbehaving children who never go punished.
The publicity says this is your first book in 30 years. How is that?
It sounds good, doesn’t it? In one sense, it is. In the minute sense that it’s the first picture book in that many years for children. In the interim, I have illustrated a great novel by Herman Melville and a great German drama and I have designed sets for opera here and in Europe. I kind of took time off kiddie bookland.
I don’t know. I know only in the sense that someone called and said, “How would you like to do sets for a Mozart opera?” And I was totally captivated, because I love Mozart with all my heart. And he didn’t care that I was inexperienced. I had a wonderful time, and I did another opera and another opera in England and Belgium and Paris and it was great. To hell with kiddie books!
You must have faced a lot of pressure to write kiddie books over that time.
No. Out of sight, out of mind. This is America.
But you made most famous kiddie book of the age.
I’m not interested in that. I would shoo people like that away. I guess I’m known too much already by people. Stay away from him. He’s dangerous.
Do you still feel dangerous?
No. I’m old, Anybody who wants can push me over.
Is that why you returned to kiddie land?
No. I returned because it was a terrible time in my life. Somebody who means everything to me was dying. I don’t know why that amalgamation of emotions led me back to doing a book for children. I really can’t answer that honestly, except that I had this little story in my head for a long time. I couldn’t figure it out, I couldn’t solve it. Then, during this horrendous time, I solved it. And it was like heaven sent to preoccupy me during a terrible, terrible, terrible time. Bumble-Ardy was born under a dark cloud, just as he tells you at the very beginning of the book.
So I’m doing a book again that’s called a children’s book. Why is it called a children’s book? You got me, baby. People seem to know what is a children’s book and what isn’t a children’s book and I have never, ever claimed to know.