Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2012 Issue

Sendak’s Death Spurs Interest in His Works

1 cover art of maurice sendak

Cover from Art of Maurice Sendak 1980 shows Wild Things.

Not many creators of books for children get a front page obituary in the New York Times; but then there aren’t many who could match Maurice Sendak, the multi-talented illustrator and writer, who died on May 8, 2012 at the age of 83.

Sendak is best remembered as the creator of the monster-like creatures who populated the pages of “Where the Wild Things Are.” The book, published by Harper & Row in 1963, won a Caldecott medal in 1964. Its first printing was reportedly 25,000 copies.

Since then it’s been continuously in print, in hard cover, paperback and library editions, in English and many other languages. There was also a special edition commemorating its 25th anniversary. Approaching its 50th anniversary it's still going strong.

In retrospect it’s interesting to note that when Wild Things was first published concern was expressed that it was too rough and dangerous for young minds.

But no, though Max is a swashbuckler and the monsters are indeed scary with horns and claws, they are also loveable and with their own special cukoo-ness. Like the boomers themselves who marched and protested their way through the 60s (and went home to read Wild Things to their children at bedtime, not once but thousands of times), maybe, not as dangerous as all that.

Sendak – Popular and Can Be Pricey

Wild Things is popular and it can be pricey. In fact, few late 20th century books for young people have seen first edition values go up quite so steeply. An unsigned copy of the first edition, estimated at $2,000 to $3,000, brought $4,062.50 in a Heritage Auction in February of 2012 according to the AE Database.

If interest in Sendak was strong before his death, it has zoomed since then, as collectors renewed their interest not only in his books, but also toys, figurines, posters, puppets, movies. The market for ephemera, including promotional materials, calendars, Christmas cards and a variety of items signed by or with sketches by Sendak is also strong. 

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