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Maurice Sendak, beloved and controversial children’s author

Posted By FTRF Staff, Thursday, May 10, 2012
Updated: Friday, July 27, 2012

On May 8, brilliant author and illustrator Maurice Sendak died. Sendak wrote In the Night Kitchen, one of the most frequently challenged books of the past 30 years due to a drawing featuring a nude boy. (It also has been defaced many times by librarians and others who drew shorts or diapers on Mikey, the book’s protagonist.) His Some Swell Pup was challenged at the Multnomah, OR, County Library because in it a dog urinates on people, and children abuse animals.

A side note: Sendak’s inimitable Where the Wild Things Are was a key part of one of FTRF’s more interesting cases of the past decade. Not because of a censorship challenge, however ... well, not an actual censorship challenge.

In November 2003, FTRF partnered with the Association of American Publishers and thirteen other groups in submitting an amicus brief to the Texas Supreme Court in support of a newspaper’s right to engage in political satire as a means of commenting on government officials’ actions. In the case, a judge and district attorney claimed they were libeled by the Dallas Observer, after the paper (an alternative weekly) published a fictitious article criticizing the officials’ role in jailing a 13-year-old boy for writing a school-assigned essay for Halloween, which discussed the shooting of a teacher and two students. The article recounted the jailing of a six-year-old girl for "suspicion of making a terrorist threat” in a book report on Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.

On September 3, 2005, the Texas Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of the Observer, saying the article was satire and protected by the First Amendment, and thus the officials could not sue for libel. The case was New Times, Inc. v. Isaacks.

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