Maurice Sendak didn't think of himself as a children's author, but as an author who told the truth about childhood.
"I like interesting people and kids are really interesting people," he explained to The Associated Press last fall. "And if you didn't paint them in little blue, pink and yellow, it's even more interesting."
Sendak, who died early Tuesday in Danbury, Conn., at age 83, four days after suffering a stroke, revolutionized children's books and how we think about childhood simply by leaving in what so many writers before had excluded. Dick and Jane were no match for his naughty Max. His kids misbehaved and didn't regret it, and in their dreams and nightmares fled to the most unimaginable places. Monstrous creatures were devised from his studio, but none more frightening than the grownups in his stories or the cloud of the Holocaust that darkened his every page.
"From their earliest years children live on familiar terms with disrupting emotions - fear and anxiety are an intrinsic part of their everyday lives, they continually cope with frustrations as best they can," he said upon receiving the Caldecott Medal in 1964 for "Where the Wild Things Are," his signature book. "And it is through fantasy that children achieve catharsis. It is the best means they have for taming wild things."
Rarely was a man so uninterested in being loved or adored. Starting with the Caldecott, the great parade marched on and on. He received the Hans Christian Andersen award in 1970 and a Laura Ingalls Wilder medal in 1983. President Bill Clinton awarded Sendak a National Medal of the Arts in 1996 and in 2009 President Obama read "Where the Wild Things Are" for the Easter Egg Roll.
Communities attempted to ban him, but his books sold millions of copies and his curmudgeonly persona became as much a part of his legend as "Where the Wild Things Are," which became a hit movie in 2009. He seemed to act out everyone's fantasy of a nasty old man with a hidden and generous heart. No one granted the privilege could forget his snarly smile, his raspy, unprintable and adorable dismissals of such modern piffle as e-books and publicity tours, his misleading insistence that his life didn't matter.
"I didn't sleep with famous people or movie stars or anything like that. It's a common story: Brooklyn boy grows up and succeeds in his profession, period," he told the AP.
Sendak's other books, standard volumes in so many children's bedrooms, included "Chicken Soup With Rice," "One was Johnny," "Pierre," "Outside Over There" and "Brundibar," a folk tale about two children who need to earn enough money to buy milk for their sick mother.
"This is the closest thing to a perfect child I've ever had," he told the AP.