Maurice Sendak preferred not to think of himself solely as a children’s-book author and illustrator, though The New York Times hailed him as “the most important children’s book artist of the 20th century.”
Sendak, whose unsentimental approach to the genre served to revolutionize it, died Tuesday in Ridgefield, Conn., at age 83, four days after suffering a stroke.
He enthralled generations of kids with such works as the Caldecott-Medal-winning “Where the Wild Things Are” (1963), the most famous of the more than 50 children’s books Sendak wrote and illustrated.
At least one longtime friend, Louise Halsey of Charleston, suggested that he wasn’t all that fond of children as a group.
“He made it clear he was not one who liked children universally,” said Halsey, who met the then-26-year-old Sendak when she was 5. “He liked some children, but as he got older he had no reason to mince words.”
Halsey, who maintained a friendship with Sendak through the years, recalls a man who was “a joy to know, but a challenge to sustain a relationship with.”
They met when Halsey’s parents, artists William Halsey and Corrie McCallum, struck up a conversation with Sendak on a visit to Charleston in 1955.
The Halseys forged a connection with him almost immediately.
“My parents took me over to meet him, but I don’t recall very much about it,” said Halsey, herself an artist. “But the following summer my father was invited to teach at Castle Hill in Ipswich, Mass., and Maurice joined us there.
“What I remember most was making a concoction of water and mud and perhaps a few other ingredients I called Fly Gook, to ward off the biting flies. I put them in Mason jars and Maurice made labels for them.”
Over the years the family kept in touch, and Halsey visited Sendak several times. She last spoke with him after his recent interview with humorist Stephen Colbert.
“Our whole family went to visit Maurice when he produced the opera ‘The Magic Flute,’ and later my husband (Stephen Driver), a potter, and I, a weaver, traded works of art with him.”
Sendak, also renowned for designing opera sets and for recording “Peter and the Wolf” in Yiddish, dedicated his book “Very Far Away” (1957) to Halsey. It was one of the first books for which he also wrote the story. For years, he was mainly an illustrator of others’ work.
“I valued our friendship tremendously,” Halsey said. “He treated me as an equal. And I really appreciated the fact that he was also a social critic who did not suffer fools gladly.”
Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are” was adapted for a feature film in 2009.
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