Maurice Bernard Sendak was born in Brooklyn on June 10, 1928; his father, Philip, was a dressmaker in the garment district of Manhattan. Family photographs show the infant Maurice, or Murray as he was then known, as a plump, round-faced, slanting-eyed, droopy-lidded, arching-browed creature — looking, in other words, exactly like a baby in a Maurice Sendak illustration. Mr. Sendak adored drawing babies, in all their fleshy petulance.
A frail child beset by a seemingly endless parade of illnesses, Mr. Sendak was reared, he said afterward, in a world of looming terrors: the Depression; the war; the Holocaust, in which many of his European relatives perished; the seemingly infinite vulnerability of children to danger. The kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby in 1932 he experienced as a personal torment: if that fair-haired, blue-eyed princeling could not be kept safe, what certain peril lay in store for him, little Murray Sendak, in his humble apartment in Bensonhurst?
An image from the Lindbergh crime scene — a ladder leaning against the side of a house — would find its way into “Outside Over There,” in which a baby is carried off by goblins.
As Mr. Sendak grew up — lower class, Jewish, gay — he felt permanently shunted to the margins of things. “All I wanted was to be straight so my parents could be happy,” he told The New York Times in a 2008 interview. “They never, never, never knew.”
His lifelong melancholia showed in his work, in picture books like “We Are All in the Dumps With Jack and Guy” (HarperCollins, 1993), a parable about homeless children in the age of AIDS. It showed in his habits. He could be dyspeptic and solitary, working in his white clapboard home in the deep Connecticut countryside with only Mozart, Melville, Mickey Mouse and his dogs for company.
It showed in his everyday interactions with people, especially those blind to the seriousness of his enterprise. “A woman came up to me the other day and said, ‘You’re the kiddie-book man!’ ” Mr. Sendak told Vanity Fair last year.“I wanted to kill her.”
But Mr. Sendak could also be warm and forthright, if not quite gregarious. He was a man of ardent enthusiasms — for music, art, literature, argument and the essential rightness of children’s perceptions of the world around them. He was also a mentor to a generation of younger writers and illustrators for children, several of whom, including Arthur Yorinks, Richard Egielski and Paul O. Zelinsky, went on to prominent careers of their own.