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Maurice Sendak's TV legacy, short but sweet

1964 Medal Winner: "Where the Wild Things Are,"

1964 Medal Winner: "Where the Wild Things Are," by Maurice Sendak (Harper)
BEST FOR Ages 2 and up (Credit: Handout)

Maurice Sendak, who died Tuesday at 83, was, of course, primarily a children's book author. But he had a memorable TV legacy as well, confined almost entirely to just two series -- "Little Bear" and "7 Little Monsters," the former for Nick and the latter for PBS.

"Monsters" was more characteristically Sendak, or what one normally thinks of "Where the Wild Things Are" Sendak. But "Bear" was a sharp departure, about a bear without guile or malice, and his wide circle of friends. It was as sweet and serene as a long summer's day, but when it landed on Nick more than a decade ago, the expectation was for something Sendakian -- at least that was the expectation among those who hadn't read the book series by Else Holmelund Minarik, which was illustrated by Sendak, to their kiddies.

This was the first series for Sendak, a TV neophyte at 67 (a movie followed), and in an interview with The Washington Post, in 1995, he said " 'Little Bear' comes from the '50s. It's from a period of time when there was a firm belief that there were family ties and a perfect Mama-Papa relationship.

"To be doing a TV program for kids through Nickelodeon gives us an outlet, and we know we're getting to kids with something they really love," he said, adding that the letters he got from kids were something of a guiding light for him and the series: "The letters of children basically remain the same," he said. "They have their own problems to attend to, the primitive problems of childhood. There's a quietness about them. And they read with the same avidity and curiosity that they always have."

Was "Little Bear" controversial? Well, umm, hardly. But Sendak's name attach did add a bit of an edge, uncharacteristic for Nick Jr. "Whenever I do take flak," he told the Post, "it's mainly from the extreme right wing. It doesn't take much to get on their bad list. There's this puritanical swing to the right. People are much more fearful and want to protect their children. But at my age, you just have to stay your course and do what you should do. Kids have very special agendas: growing up and staying alive. Their interests and passions and troubles are always the same. Kids go on as they are. Maybe that gives me a false sense of security."

Tags: maurice sendak , little bear , nick , nick jr. , where the wild things are

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