The Key to Maurice Sendak's Success With Children? His Contempt for Adults

The beloved author of Where the Wild Things Are is dead, though he may not mind that much.

Beloved children's book author and illustrator Maurice Sendak died today at age 83. Though there are thousands of children's authors whose works have touched millions of people, Sendak, whose most famous story was 1963's Where the Wild Things Are, made books that were somehow able to endure the ages. He seemed to have an almost cult-like fan-base—perhaps rivaled only by the followings of Roald Dahl, who died in 1990, and Shel Silverstein, who passed in 1999—that's been supporting him for decades. Ultra-hip director Spike Jonze made Wild Things into a big-budget film in 2009, and the outpouring of grief for Sendak from tastemakers and celebrities on Twitter has been monumental. So what made an octogenarian who was by many accounts a cantakerous crank into one of the world's most beloved icons of childhood whimsy? Probably the fact that he didn't treat kids like dummies.

What young people want—more than ice cream or video games or ponies (maybe not more than ponies, actually)—is to be grown up. Many children would kill themselves in car accidents or with fire if left to their own devices, but they want some agency in a world that continually tells them they're too stupid, immature, and small to do anything of real value. Between signs reading "You must be this tall to ride this ride" and restrictive bedtimes, children are well aware that adults think less of them, and that realization is infuriating when they know they're smarter than anyone realizes. It's easy to tell from Sendak's work that he understood children felt this way, and that he refused to treat them like the impotent dullards many adults took them for.

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