05/08/2012 10:26 EDT | Updated 07/08/2012 05:12 EDT

Where the Wild Things Are author Maurice Sendak dies

Maurice Sendak, author and illustrator of the children's classic Where the Wild Things Are, has died at age 83 in Connecticut.

The writer died early Tuesday morning at a hospital in Danbury after suffering a stroke on Friday night, said his longtime friend and caretaker, Lynn Caponera.

Brooklyn born and raised, the author and illustrator is best known for 1963's Where the Wild Things Are, about a rebellious boy named Max who sets off on a fantastical journey in his imagination after being sent to bed with no dinner.

The book's myriad fans include U.S. President Barack Obama, who read it for one of the White House's annual Easter Egg Roll events, and the story was adapted into a 2009 movie of the same name, directed by Spike Jonze.

When it first debuted, however, Where the Wild Things Are sparked controversy. It was both acclaimed (winning the Caldecott Medal for the best children's book of 1964) as well as criticized for its portrayal of a wild and disobedient young subject, and for Sendak's creation of a dark imaginary world that could frighten children.

"In my books, I like children to be as ferocious, and inventive and troublesome as they are in real life," he said in an interview in 2011.

"We're painting pretty pictures about the world and there are no pretty pictures to paint. I like interesting people and kids are really interesting people, and if you don't paint them in little blue, pink and yellow, it's even more interesting."

Holocaust infused into Sendak's work

Born to Jewish-Polish immigrants, Sendak was profoundly affected by the Holocaust. Hearing of the deaths of relatives and family friends in Nazi concentration camps weighed heavily on him, and he would later incorporate loved ones into his writing and illustrations.

Sendak, who had long dreamed of being an illustrator, worked odd jobs before landing a job designing the window displays of famed New York toy store F.A.O. Schwarz in 1948. In 1951, he was commissioned to create the artwork for the Marcel Ayme book Wonderful Farm. It led to other illustration work, including Else Holmelund Minarik's Little Bear series.

By 1957, he was penning his own books. The award-winning author helped pioneer the notion of tackling darker themes in children's books and presenting honest portrayals of children, whom he depicted as complicated, sometimes angry and petulant as well as fiercely imaginative. His other titles include:

- In the Night Kitchen, a regular on the American Library Association's "most challenged books" list because of young protagonist Mickey's nudity during his fantastical adventure.

- Outside,Over There, which inspired the 1986 film Labyrinth.

- Chicken Soup With Rice

- Bumble-Ardy, in 2011, the first book he both wrote and illustrated in 30 years, based on an earlier collaboration with Jim Henson.

Despite the fact that his books sold millions of copies, Sendak cultivated the persona of a recluse and curmudgeon, most recently railing against "ghastly" e-books. He eschewed book-signing tours and worked from his home studio in Ridgefield, Conn., where he moved in the early 1960s.

Sendak created costumes and set designs for stage productions, including working with playwright Tony Kushner on the children's opera Brundibar, on an award-winning production of the ballet The Nutcracker and other operas like The Magic Flute, Idomeneo and Love for Three Oranges.

He also produced several TV series, including Really Rosie and Seven Little Monsters.

Over the years, he received many honours, including the international Hans Christian Andersen medal for illustration in 1970, the American Library Association's Laura Ingalls Wilder Award in 1983 and the U.S. National Medal of the Arts in 1996.

Despite his other endeavours, Sendak embraced being known as a "kiddie-book author" who wrote honestly about children.

"So, I write books that seem more suitable for children, and that's OK with me," he said in 2003.

"They are a better audience and tougher critics. Kids tell you what they think, not what they think they should think."

In recent months, Sendak said he had been working on a new project about noses and had endorsed I am a Pole (And So Can You!), a children's book by TV satirist Stephen Colbert that was published on Tuesday.

He also spoke about death, saying he missed his late siblings as well as his longtime companion, psychoanalyst Eugene Glynn, who died in 2009.

"I want to be alone and work until the day my heads hits the drawing table and I'm dead. Kaput," he told the Associated Press last fall.

"I don't believe in heaven or hell or any of those things. I feel very much like I want to be with my brother and sister again. They're nowhere. I know they're nowhere and they don't exist, but if nowhere means that's where they are, that's where I want to be."