Maurice Sendak, who has died at the age of 83, was one of the most important illustrators of the twentieth century. The broad sweep of Sendak’s talent, his fierce individuality and his wonderfully strange volatile imagination allowed his picture books to ignore the commonly perceived boundaries that separate children’s books from the rest. He didn’t fit in that enclosure, he preferred not to call them ‘children’s books’: ‘I write for myself,’ he said. And in subtly different ways, his books are accessible across all levels of understanding.
One book that has touched the lives of just about everybody is Where the Wild Things Are. It explores a child’s anger, fear and frustration when, after an outbreak of disobedience, his mother sends him to bed with no supper. Many thought the book was too dark and frightening, but it marked a turning point in children’s literature and its success was due to Sendak’s passionate commitment to telling the truth about a child’s emotions: it was both thrilling and cathartic. It changed people’s perceptions and expectations of books for children. It won him the Caldecott medal in 1964 and continues to sell in its millions.
Sendak was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of poor immigrant Jewish parents from Poland. A sickly, solitary child, he spent his time drawing what he saw from the apartment window, and he once explained that the monsters in Wild Things were developed from caricatures of the relatives who regularly visited the family when he was young. He became a (largely self taught) illustrator and it was while he was working for a toy store, making drawings for the window display that his talent was brought to the attention of the legendary publisher and editor Ursula Nordstrom, who set him on the road to success. (A longer version of this obituary can be found on www.booksforkeeps.co.uk)
Beverley Mathias (1939-2012)
Elizabeth Attenborough writes…
Beverley Mathias, former Children’s Officer of the National Book League and founding director of the National Library for the Handicapped Child, has died from cancer aged 72. She was a pioneer in working with children for whom reading was a problem, whether from a physical or educational disability.
Bev was born in Melbourne, Australia, and trained as a children’s librarian. After a year working in Dunedin City Library, New Zealand, it was back in Australia that she began her interest in special needs education, particularly the provision of reading for children with language and communication difficulties. From 1976 to 1979 she worked with Oldmeadow Booksellers outside Melbourne, where she found working with Joyce Oldmeadow and her Dromkeen Children’s Centre an inspiration. In 1979 Bev moved to England and became Children’s Officer for the National Book League (now Book Trust) under Martyn Goff. Under her stewardship the children’s library grew in both size and importance.
In 1984 Bev was asked by Imogen Smallwood, daughter of Enid Blyton, to be the founding director of the National Library for the Handicapped Child, which later became known as REACH, the National Advice Centre for Children with Reading Difficulties. In 1986 Bev accepted the Eleanor Farjeon Award for outstanding service to children’s literature on behalf of the organisation, signing as well as speaking her acceptance speech at the award reception.
Alongside her work with books and education, for six years Bev was a foster carer giving emergency and respite care. During this time, she also gave weekly respite care to a severely disabled child, Rachel, who was ten when Bev first cared for her. In 2004 Bev retired to Newton Stewart, Wigtown, in Scotland, where she became an active member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). She was heavily involved as both a volunteer and a benefactor in the local Book Festival, and was chair of the local branch of Home-Start. It was in 2009 that Bev was diagnosed with breast cancer, which spread to her liver in 2011. She left her body to medical science.