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Detail from "Mommy" by Maurice Sendak ( )

Why Maurice Sendak Puts Kid Characters in Danger

Sep 26, 2006 (Morning Edition)

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Mommy? is the newest children's book from artist Maurice Sendak, who is famous for putting child characters in jeopardy in stories like Where the Wild Things Are. And Mommy? is no exception: A small child wanders among scary monsters like Frankenstein and the Mummy, looking for his mother.

But the mood turns lighthearted when the youngster realizes that he can outwit the monsters. The book is Sendak's first pop-up (although that format presents its own dangers — "Don't get your fingers caught," Sendak warns). He collaborated on the book with author Arthur Yorinks and paper engineer Matthew Reinhart.

Sendak says his own unhappy childhood is the reason that danger lurks in his picture books. The Holocaust claimed the lives of many of his family members. The kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby terrified him. He had an uneasy relationship with his father.

"Childhood is a tricky business," Sendak says. "Usually, something goes wrong."

That theme got him into trouble with adult critics in the past, but he's not worried about how his younger readers will react.

"Kids," he explains, "are so shrewd."

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