Maurice Sendak Biography and Timeline

Maurice Bernard Sendak, June 10, 1928-2012

Dubbed by one critic “the Picasso of children’s literature” and once addressed by former President Bill Clinton as “the King of Dreams,” Maurice Sendak illustrated nearly a hundred picture books throughout a career that spanned more than 60 years. Some of his best known books include Chicken Soup with Rice (1962), Where the Wild Things Are (1963), and In the Night Kitchen (1970). Born in Brooklyn in 1928 to Jewish immigrant parents from northern Poland, Sendak grew up idolizing the storytelling abilities of his father, Philip, and his big brother, Jack. As a child he illustrated his first stories on shirt cardboard provided by his tailor-father. Aside from a few night classes in art after graduating high school, Sendak was a largely self-taught artist. His characters, stories, and inspirations were drawn from among his own neighbors, family, pop culture, historical sources, literary influences, and long-held childhood memories. He worked with such well-known children’s authors as Ruth Krauss, Else Minarik, and Arthur Yorinks, and illustrated books by Leo Tolstoy, Herman Melville, Isaac Bashevis Singer, the Brothers Grimm, and the poet Randall Jarrell. Sendak began a second career as a costume and stage designer in the late 1970s, designing operas by Mozart, Prokofiev, Ravel, and Tchaikovsky, among others. He won numerous awards, including a Caldecott Award, the international Hans Christian Andersen Award, a National Book Award, the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, and a National Medal of Arts. His books continue to be read by millions of children and adults and have been translated into dozens of languages and enjoyed all over the world. The Rosenbach Museum & Library has been the home of his picture book artwork since the late 1960s and mourns his passing as it also celebrates the life and work of an artist who touched so many young lives and nourished so many dreams.


June 10, 1928—Born in Brooklyn, NY

1932—Charles Lindbergh, Jr., kidnapped and eventually found murdered. The ensuing media frenzy becomes a formative memory for the young Sendak

1939—Attends the New York World’s Fair, another important experience that laid the foundation for In the Night Kitchen

1941—Family receives news that Philip Sendak’s village in Poland is destroyed by the Nazis and most of his family are killed or taken to concentration camps

1947—Completes first book illustrations for Atomics for the Millions

1948-9—Works at F.A.O. Schwarz toy store in Manhattan as a window display artist; it is there he meets Ursula Nordstrom, children’s book editor at Harper & Row

1951—Illustrates first children’s book, The Wonderful Farm by Marcel Aymé

1956—Publishes Kenny’s Window, the first book he both wrote and illustrated

1961—Paints a mural for the Chertoff family in their upper west side apartment

1962—Publishes The Nutshell Library, a set of four small books including Pierre, and Chicken Soup with Rice

1963—Publishes Where the Wild Things Are

1964—Wins Caldecott Medal for Where the Wild Things Are

1966—First visit to the Rosenbach Museum & Library in Philadelphia, and the beginning of relationship with the museum

1967—Suffers a heart attack in England; beloved dog, Jennie, dies. He writes and illustrates Higglety, Pigglety, Pop! or, There Must be More to Life in her honor.

1968—Mother, Sarah, dies of cancer; begins depositing picture book art and working materials at the Rosenbach

1970—Wins international Hans Christian Andersen Award; Father, Philip, dies; Publishes In the Night Kitchen, which is dedicated to his parents

1972—Moves from New York to Connecticut

1979—Writes and designs first opera, Where the Wild Things Are; creates designs for various opera productions throughout 1980s and ‘90s

1980—Publication of major biography by Selma Lanes, The Art of Maurice Sendak (Abrams)

1981—Publishes Outside Over There

1995—Illustrates Herman Melville’s Pierre, or, The Ambiguities

1996—Receives the National Medal of Arts from President Clinton

2003—Publishes Brundibar book and designs opera production; awarded the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award; friend Tony Kushner publishes The Art of Maurice Sendak: 1980 to the Present (Abrams)

2007—Death of Dr. Eugene Glynn, Sendak’s partner of more than 50 years

2009—Release of Spike Jonze film adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are

2011—Publishes Bumble-Ardy, the first book both written and illustrated by Sendak in thirty years