During a 2003 "Fresh Air" interview with NPR's Terry Gross, Maurice Sendak, the much-praised children's book artist responsible for "Where the Wild Things Are," admitted that he never created picture books with children in mind. "I've convinced myself — I hope I'm right — that children despair of you if you don't tell them the truth," the author, who died in 2012, said. "And if they don't like what they hear, that's tough bananas."
You won't find those words strung on a wall at the Young at Art Museum in Davie, the venue picking up its first traveling exhibit, "Where the Wild Things Are: Maurice Sendak in His Own Words and Pictures," nor will you find the revelations about his homosexuality or that nightmares chased him since his youth.
What can be found, however, are about a dozen of Sendak's classic books including "In the Night Kitchen" and "Outside Over There," along with facsimiles of pen-and-ink drawings, sketchbooks and comic-book-like storyboards on loan from the Atlanta-based William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum. Paired with them: written musings by Sendak himself, revealing a man who adored the company of dogs, was fascinated by his genealogy and who would never sugarcoat the world's woes in books widely read by kids.
"Sendak was really in touch with his emotions," says Sandra Trinidad, a Young at Art spokeswoman. "And so he never hesitated to expose children to serious subjects like kidnapping. But he also had a wicked sense of humor. Maurice was one of the first authors to portray kids having a tantrum."
Sendak was keen on portraying well-illustrated, crosshatched and sometimes watercolored worlds, at once fraught with dreamlike estrangement and naughty childishness. According to one exhibit card, the plot of "In the Night Kitchen," a surreal story of a rebellious, costumed boy helping a trio of Laurel and Hardy-lookalike bakers bake a cake overnight, was inspired by a baking company's slogan from Sendak's youth: "We Bake While You Sleep."
On a nearby divider wall, families can flip through an oversize copy of 1967's "Higglety Pigglety Pop!" Sendak's dark yarn concerning a gluttonous dog on his search for adventure. Framed pictures of the author's real dog Jennie, a shaggy Sealyham terrier, accompany the book, whose death inspired the tribute. "Outside Over There," the darkest and perhaps most-personal of Sendak's children's books, concerns Ida, a girl whose baby sister is kidnapped by goblins. In another quoted excerpt found on the wall, Sendak admits the traumatic news of the 1932 real-life kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby haunted his childhood.
Paired with the memorabilia, which also includes opera posters and manuscripts, are interactive art stations. Included is a funhouse mirror and Max's wooden boat from "Where the Wild Things Are," and a listening area playing Beethoven and Mozart.
"Classical music and opera were some of his passions," Trinidad says. "And the great thing is you get to read in his own words what these books all meant to him."
Where the Wild Things Are: Maurice Sendak in His Own Words and Pictures
When: Saturday through Sept. 15
Where: Young at Art Museum, 751 SW 121st Ave., Davie
Contact: 954-424-0085 or YoungatArtMuseum.org