Celebrating Maurice Sendak's Legacy

Lesson ideas that focus on the author and illustrator's contribution to children's literature.

By Dawn Dodson

block letters spelling "authors"

On May 8, 2012 the world said goodbye to award-winning author and illustrator, Maurice Sendak. Sendak is best known for expanding the boundaries of children’s literature through many of his books, including the widely known Where the Wild Things Are. It was through his writing and illustrations that children were given a means to deal with the emotions of growing up. The impact of his work still affects both writers and readers today—as in the subject matter children’s literature authors explore, as well as how it is defined. Thus, his books remain a purposeful teaching tool for a variety of learning objectives at any grade level. In taking a moment to honor the life and career of Maurice Sendak, another generation of readers and writers will be inspired.


Traditional Author Study

There are a variety of author study projects available depending upon the grade level, author, and learning objective. Studying an author’s life can allow individuals to gain an understanding and respect for particular work(s). Through an investigation of Sendak’s life, students can not only learn about immigration and Nazi-occupied Poland, but they will also be able to draw connections between the author’s life experiences and the possible motivations behind his books.

Projects can include:

  • A chronological timeline of the author’s life, published works, and accolades.
  • A research composition of historical events that occurred during author’s life and/or experienced by the author. This can include how the historical events maybe portrayed in the author’s work.
  • A digital presentation of the author’s life experiences, work, accolades, and defining characteristics of his/her work.

Author Museum

In addition to, or as an extension of the author study, create a museum dedicated to an author. Divide the class into groups, with each group assigned to a specific portion of the author’s life. Objects representing time periods and interesting details about the author are included in each group’s research. Arranged in chronological order, groups construct booths to display their props and research findings. Each group presents their portion of the museum, giving the effect of a timeline. The booths can be displayed in the classroom or around the school.

Writing Style Analysis

Analyzing an author’s writing style is an activity that allows learners to engage in a specific text and explore the aspects of an author’s writing style. This is an activity that is useful in reviewing, or providing practice, for the writing traits. Once again, pupils can work in small groups in order to communicate thoughts and responses to each item on the analysis checklist. Items on the checklist are based on writing trait information previously covered in class. The checklist includes:

  • word choice
  • pattern and rhyme
  • voice
  • imagery 
  • use of figurative language
  • organization
  • main idea conveyed

Each group reads and analyzes the book. Also, each member of the group is responsible for his individual analysis. After each member of the group shares his analysis, the group creates one analysis poster to present to the class. The posters can be displayed in the classroom.

Maurice Sendak will continue to inspire children and adults through his writing and illustrations, affording readers of all ages the opportunities to learn from, enjoy, and appreciate his work. 

More language arts resources and lesson ideas:

Identify Author’s Purpose

This is a worksheet that allows for easy identification and organization of author’s purpose. It can be used with multiple pieces of literature as a component to teaching author’s purpose.

Author Study

Also a worksheet, this graphic organizer allows for easy recording of facts collected throughout a research study. It can also help focus topics for an essay rough draft.

Reading the Landscape in Children’s Literature

Using books such as, Where the Wild Things Are as a mentor text, this lesson focuses on setting. Using geographical cues provided in the book can help teach setting and improve the overall comprehension of a text. This lesson integrates language arts and geography content.

Biomes: Where are the Wild Things?

This lesson incorporates research of habitats in order to create a newsletter. Although this is a science lesson, language arts can easily be integrated by including a compare/contrast element between fictional and nonfictional habitats. Settings in books such as Where the Wild Things Are could be incorporated.