Maurice Sendak
By: Joshua Glenn | Categories: HiLo Heroes

His reputation as a subversive children’s book author-illustrator has everything to do with Where the Wild Things Are (1963) and the frequently banned In the Night Kitchen (1970). But devoted fans and troubled critics alike tend to underestimate MAURICE SENDAK (born 1928). Sure, the monsters in the former book (who were inspired by Polish-Jewish relatives with Old World mannerisms) are both lovable and scary; while Mickey, the protagonist of the latter, is a naked boy shoved into an oven by Hitler-moustached cooks. But all fairy tales are unheimlich; Sendak’s particular brand of uncanny is more sophisticated. Whether for Robert Graves’s children’s story, The Big Green Book (1962), for example, or his own Nutshell Library, his illustrations are charmingly innocent; yet, like the innocent-looking inmates from a WWII prison-camp movie, Sendak is on a mission of escape and sabotage. Many of his illustrations are intertextual — i.e., they’re wormholes leading out of the text. (His Big Green Book drawings slyly reference Beatrix Potter’s Weltanschauung; elsewhere, he visually quotes Blake’s engravings and Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s photos.) Meanwhile, the mise en scène of Wild Things and Night Kitchen is disruptive. At some level, Sendak’s readers get the impression that everyday life is a prison camp from which they must escape; what troubles parents is being forced into the role of camp Kommandant.

ALSO BORN THIS DATE: Anita Berber

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Joshua Glenn is an author, publisher, and semiotic analyst. He is co-author (with Mark Kingwell and the cartoonist Seth) of THE IDLER'S GLOSSARY and THE WAGE SLAVE'S GLOSSARY, co-editor of the object-oriented story collections TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY and (with Rob Walker) SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS, and co-author (with Elizabeth Foy Larsen) of the family activities guide UNBORED and three forthcoming spinoffs, including UNBORED Games. He is editor of HILOBROW and publisher of the Radium Age science fiction imprint HiLoBooks. Also: Glenn manages a secretive online community known as the Hermenautic Circle; he is founding editor of the e-book club Save the Adventure; and he's a frequent co-host of Boing Boing's podcast GWEEK. In the ’00s, Glenn was an editor, columnist, and blogger for the Boston Globe's IDEAS section, he co-founded the international semiotics website SEMIONAUT, and contributed to CABINET, SLATE, and elsewhere. In the ’90s, he published the high-lowbrow zine/journal HERMENAUT, worked as a dotcom and magazine editor, and contributed to THE BAFFLER, FEED, and elsewhere. His publishing company is King Mixer, LLC; and his semiotic analysis consultancy is Semiovox LLC. He lives in Boston with his wife and children.