Maurice Sendak often said he did not write books for children. He just happened to write books in which children were interested. No, Sendak had too much respect for children to assume they were simple creatures or easily fooled by adults. In a 2004 interview with Bill Moyers, Sendak said he didn't like Peter Pan, or rather the author of the tale, J.M. Barrie. "It's Barrie I don't like. The sentimentalizing of children, the cutesifying of the children. If you look into the heart of Peter Pan, it is a boy obsessed with death, afraid to live."The children in Sendak's books are not cute or quaint -- they cause mayhem; they pour syrup on their hair. They are real people.
Sendak acknowledged that his unsentimental views had roots in his childhood -- when he was transfixed by the kidnap and murder of Charles Lindbergh's son in a nearby New Jersey town. Frightening thoughts only built upon by the stories brought by the few European family members to escape the Holocaust. In 2003 Sendak collaborated with playwright Tony Kushner on staging and producing a book illustrated book based on Brundibar, a children's opera with a libretto by Adolf Hoffmeister and set to music by Hans Kraása was completed in 1938. The play, in which the children eventually triumph through courage over the tyrant Brundibar who is terrorizing their town, was performed an astonishing 55 times by the children in one of Hitler's concentration camps before most of them were sent to die in the gas chamber, along with the composer. Astonishing, that is, because the Nazis never seemed to get the point of the story. In this case too, the children were far more clever than the adults.
Children in Sendak's books lived life. Sometimes things were great and sometimes there was trouble around the corner. And Maurice Sendak enriched us all. Maurice Sendak did end one of his books with a cleary stated ethic. "The moral of Pierre is CARE!"
But he'd probably want us to keep in mind his take on his own legacy:
"I'm not Hans Christian Anderson. Nobody's gonna make a statue in the park with a lot of scrambling kids climbing up me. I won't have it, okay?"