While the trials of Sendak's "sickly, spindly" childhood were many, there is no question that he was born into the right family--a family of storytellers. "My father told stories that would now be deemed inappropriate for children. My brother wrote weird stories and my sister bound the weird stories into beautiful books which we sold on the streets."
It was a family of intense emotions and colorful characters who were never more colorful than every Sunday afternoon when the Sendaks' "hideous, beastly relatives" arrived for dinner.
"They would lean over you with their foul breath and squeeze you and pinch you, and their eyes are blood-stained and their teeth are big and yellow. Ahh! It was horrible, horrible," he says.
These frightful creatures, of course, went on to become the wild things in Sendak's classic Where the Wild Things Are, the award-winning tale of a pajama-clad boy named Max who travels to a land of huge, hairy monsters and subdues them.
("At first," says Sendak, "the book was to be called 'Where the Wild Horses Are,' but when it became apparent to my editor I could not draw horses, she kindly changed the title to 'Wild Things,' with the idea that I could at the very least draw 'a thing'! So I drew my relatives. They're all dead now, so I can tell people."