A sickly child, Sendak decided to become an illustrator for children after he was influenced by Walt Disney's film Fantasia at the age of twelve. His illustrations were first published in a 1947 textbook entitled Atomics for the Millions, and he spent the 1950s making a name for himself as a lavish artist for children's books.
He found international acclaim with Where The Wild Things Are, though the book's portrayals of fanged monsters concerned parents when it was first released. Sendak's attractions to the dark, forbidden, nightmarish aspects of children's fantasy has made him a subject of controversy in some areas. His influential and popular 1970 book In The Night Kitchen has regularly been subjected to censorship for presenting pictures of a young boy innocently prancing naked through the story; the book has been banned in various areas, and in others it has been re-touched and edited to include "diapers" on the illustrations of its young hero.
Sendak produced an animated TV production based on his work entitled Really Rosie, which was broadcast in 1975 and is available on video (usually as part of video compilations of his work). He adapted Where The Wild Things Are into a stage production in 1979, and in 1983 he designed an award-winning stage production of Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker.