Throughout his life, Where the Wild Things Are author Maurice Sendak made no distinction between writing for adults and writing for children. “I don’t write for children,” he told Stephen Colbert in 2012. “I write, and somebody says, ‘That’s for children.'” The sentiment has been echoed by many other authors. “People think they need to write differently when they write for children. But they don’t,” Madeleine L’Engle insisted.
This philosophical stance on writing for young readers will now be tested in a Connecticut court. Last week, the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia sued the estate of Maurice Sendak, which has refused to hand over a collection of rare books that Sendak’s will specified would be housed by the museum after his death, claiming that they’re technically classified as children’s books, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
The estate retains ownership of the collection, though, and in September, it withdrew 98% of the 10,200 books, manuscripts, and illustrations on loan with the intention of housing them in a new museum dedicated to Sendak in his hometown of Ridgefield. It did so by exercising an option in a 1969 agreement between the author and the Rosenbach. Sendak had a 40-year-relationship with the museum; he was a board member and honorary president. The museum has mounted more than 70 exhibitions of his work since 1970.
In the suit, the Rosenbach argues that the estate’s claim “either demonstrates that the executors are shockingly ignorant of Mr. Sendak’s views or is just a bad-faith effort on the part of the executors to manufacture some basis” to retain the volumes. These include several works by Beatrix Potter, as well as William Blake’s Songs of Experience and Songs of Innocence — the former lacks a binding, while the latter’s pages don’t perfectly match other copies of the same book. The Rosenbach states:
The Blake books are just that — books. The executors’ assertion that what are plainly books are not books is nothing less than an attempt to override Mr. Sendak’s decision to give all of his rare-edition books to the Rosenbach. The Blake books are highly valued and the executors have advised the Rosenbach that they intend to sell the Blakes. If sold, they might be expected to sell for several million dollars, which funds the executors would prefer to go to the foundation.
The estate has said it does not plan to sell any of the disputed items, though a Christie’s auction titled “The World of Maurice Sendak: Artist, Author, Connoisseur,” is scheduled for Jan. 21.