Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm
I'm Mario Ritter. This week on our program, we tell about Maurice Sendak, an
award winning writer and illustrator of more than one hundred children's books.
stories "Where the Wild Things Are" and "In the Night Kitchen" have helped
redefine children's literature. Sendak has also worked on many theater and
opera productions. For over sixty years, Sendak's artistic skill has brought to
life richly imaginative worlds filled with children, animals and magical
Sendak was born in nineteen twenty-eight in the Brooklyn area of New York City.
His parents were Jewish immigrants from Poland who met in New York. Maurice was
often sick as a child. As a result, he stayed home and read books and drew
pictures to entertain himself.
stories are often dark and intense. For example, "Outside Over There" is about
a baby who is kidnapped by goblin creatures while her older sister is not
paying attention. The sister must leave the safety of home to rescue the baby
from a strange and dream-like world.
has said that the idea for "Outside Over There" came from a famous kidnapping.
In nineteen thirty-two, the child of the famous American pilot Charles
Lindbergh was kidnapped and later killed. Maurice Sendak was only a small child
at the time. But he always remembered his fear as he listened to the radio
broadcasts about this tragic event.
Maurice grew up with continuous reminders about death.
When he was sick, his grandmother dressed him in white clothes she thought
would help him avoid death. Many of Sendak's family members in Europe were
killed by the German Nazis in death camps during World War Two. He remembers
his mother screaming and crying each time she learned that another family member
had been killed. Sendak's parents would sometimes talk about the dead family
members, especially children, who were not lucky enough to survive like Maurice
These influences help explain an important part of
Sendak's books. They often show children overcoming evil forces and other
complex situations. Many of his stories
are about a child trying to survive while facing difficult emotions such as
fear. In his books, Sendak skillfully combines an adult's point of view with a
child's point of view. His books are magical for all age groups.
of the first books Sendak worked on as an artist was "A Hole is to Dig: A First
Book of First Definitions." To write the book, Ruth Krauss asked very small
children how they would define words like "face," "dog" and "party." Published in nineteen
fifty-two, this book brought wide public attention to Sendak's art work. A few
years later, he drew pictures for the first "Little Bear"
books, written by Else Minarik.
In nineteen sixty-two he published the "Nutshell
Library." These are four little books in a box measuring about seven by
ten centimeters. The books are "Alligators All Around," "One Was
Johnny," "Chicken Soup with Rice"
is a funny story about a little boy who behaves badly. His answer to every
question from his parents is "I don't care." Then he is eaten by a
hungry lion. But the story has a happy
ending. Pierre changes his behavior when he is reunited with his parents.
One day his mother said
When Pierre climbed out of bed
Good morning, darling boy, you are my only joy.
Pierre said- I don't care!
What would you like to eat?
I don't care!
Some lovely cream of wheat?
I don't care!
Don't sit backwards in your chair
I don't care!
Sendak's drawings are very expressive. His little boys show their emotions in
funny and recognizable ways. His monster creatures are more loveable than they
are frightening. And his landscapes are very detailed and beautiful.
nineteen sixty-three Sendak published "Where the Wild Things Are." It tells
about the adventures of a rebellious young boy named Max, who wears clothing to
make him look like a wolf. One evening, his mother sends him to his room
without dinner as punishment for misbehaving. Max enters an imaginary world of
large, frightening creatures. These Wild Things make him their ruler. But he
becomes lonely and wants to return home.
And when he came to the place where the wild things are
they roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled
their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws til Max said "BE STILL!"
and tamed them with the magic trick of staring into all their yellow eyes with out
first, Sendak wanted to make the story about wild horses. But he could not draw
horses very well. Instead, he drew the creatures to look like his family
members in Brooklyn. Some critics
thought the book was too frightening for some children. However, "Where the
Wild Things Are" became an extraordinary success. It is still extremely popular
with children and their parents. A movie version of "Where the Wild Things
Are" comes out October sixteenth.
Maurice Sendak began his career, many children's books showed a happy and
perfect world. Sendak wrote books that
were honest and sometimes very serious. He was revolutionary in widening the
subjects considered acceptable for children's books.
nineteen seventy Sendak published "In the Night Kitchen." It tells about a
little boy named Mickey who enters the dream world of a night kitchen. He falls
into a large container of cake batter being mixed by three fat cooks. Mickey builds
an airplane out of uncooked bread and flies around the kitchen. This book was also very successful. However, some critics were upset that Sendak
drew the young boy Mickey wearing no clothes.
Where the bakers who bake till the dawn so we can have
cake in the morn mixed Mickey in batter, chanting: Milk in the batter! Milk in
the batter! Stir it! Scrape it! Make it! Bake it! And they put that batter up
to bake a delicious Mickey-cake. But right in the middle of the steaming and
the making and the smelling and the baking Mickey poked through and said: I'm
not the milk and the milk's not me! I'm Mickey!
Over the years, Maurice Sendak has also worked on many
plays and operas. He helped make "Where the Wild Things Are" into an opera. He
also created set designs for "The Nutcracker" ballet by Tchaikovsky and "The
Magic Flute" opera by Mozart.
two thousand three, Sendak worked with the playwright Tony Kushner on a picture
book called "Brundibar." The book is
based on a children's opera by the Jewish Czech composer Hans Krasa. It is
about two poor children who must buy milk for their sick mother. They try to
raise money from the people in their town by singing on the street. But a mean man named Brundibar chases them
away. With the help of a group of children and some talking animals, they raise
the money needed to buy milk.
opera was first performed in nineteen forty-two at a center for Jewish children
without parents in Prague, Czechoslovakia. Then Krasa and the children were
sent to a Nazi death camp, along with most of the other Jews of Prague. Krasa directed the children performing the
opera fifty-five times at the camp before they were sent to their deaths by the
has said that "Brundibar" represented the sadness he felt about losing family
members during the Holocaust. He thought that the book might help him move on
from always thinking about his family's past.
Sendak and Kushner worked together to stage their own version of
"Brundibar" as an opera for children.
It has been performed in several cities.
Sendak has won many awards including the "Living Legend" honor from the
American Library of Congress. He has also won every major award for children's
literature. The Rosenbach Library in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania has a
collection of more than ten thousand drawings by Maurice Sendak. The writer
began giving early versions of his books and drawings to the library beginning
in the nineteen seventies.
May two thousand seven, the Rosenbach Library opened a travelling exhibit
called "There's a Mystery There: Sendak on Sendak." It is now at the Contemporary Jewish Museum
in San Francisco, California. Visitors can see many of Maurice Sendak's
extraordinarily detailed drawings and learn more about the imaginary worlds he
Our program was written and
produced by Dana Demange. Our readers were Doug Johnson, Steve Ember and Jim
Tedder. I'm Mario Ritter.
And I'm Faith Lapidus. Our programs are online with transcripts and
MP3 files at voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA
in VOA Special English.