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Book News: Battle Over Maurice Sendak's Book Collection Sparks A Lawsuit

Maurice Sendak stands with a character from his book Where the Wild Things Are in 2002. Spencer Platt/Getty Images hide caption

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Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Maurice Sendak stands with a character from his book Where the Wild Things Are in 2002.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

In the more than two years since Maurice Sendak died, a dispute has simmered over the celebrated author and illustrator's wishes for the works he left behind. Now, the fate of that personal library will be settled in court.

The Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia has filed a lawsuit against Sendak's estate, alleging that the Sendak trustees have failed to comply with the terms of his will. In the will, according to the lawsuit, Sendak requests that much of his rare book collection — as well as many of his own writings and illustrations — remain in Philadelphia to be displayed at the museum, with which Sendak shared a decades-long relationship.

Although the will allows leeway for negotiation between both parties, talks between the Rosenbach and the executors of Sendak's will have failed to reach an agreement.

At the heart of the dispute lies two gems of Sendak's collection, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer: William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, and several books by Beatrix Potter, author of Peter Rabbit. The newspaper reports that the debate over the latter boils down to a question central in Sendak's own writing.

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The suit argues that the estate doesn't intend to transfer to the Potter books because "they are children's books, not rare books," the Inquirer writes. "The Rosenbach calls that reasoning not only faulty but rife with irony: Sendak argued that divisions between adult and children's literature were invalid — in his work as well as that of others."

Filed in Connecticut, where Sendak lived, the lawsuit has an added wrinkle: a possible deadline. Sendak trustees are planning an auction in January. Although trustees have said none of the disputed items would be auctioned, according to the lawsuit, the Inquirer reports that the Rosenbach has nevertheless sought a court order to keep executors from transferring, disposing or distributing until a resolution is reached.

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