Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss by Philip Nel
How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children's Literature (Children's Literature Association)

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Crockett Johnson (born David Johnson Leisk, 1906-1975) and Ruth Krauss (1901-1993) were a husband-and-wife team that created such popular children's books as The Carrot Seed and How to Make an Earthquake. Separately, Johnson created the enduring children's classic Harold and the Purple Crayon and the groundbreaking comic strip Barnaby. Krauss wrote over a dozen children's books illustrated by others, and pioneered the use of spontaneous, loose-tongued kids in children's literature. Together, Johnson and Krauss's style--whimsical writing, clear and minimalist drawing, and a child's point-of-view--is among the most revered and influential in children's literature and cartooning, inspiring the work of Maurice Sendak, Charles M. Schulz, Chris Van Allsburg, and Jon Scieszka.

This critical biography examines their lives and careers, including their separate achievements when not collaborating. Using correspondence, sketches, contemporary newspaper and magazine accounts, archived and personal interviews, author Philip Nel draws a compelling portrait of a couple whose output encompassed children's literature, comics, graphic design, and the fine arts. Their mentorship of now-famous illustrator Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are) is examined at length, as is the couple's appeal to adult contemporaries such as Duke Ellington and Dorothy Parker. Defiantly leftist in an era of McCarthyism and Cold War paranoia, Johnson and Krauss risked collaborations that often contained subtly rendered liberal themes. Indeed, they were under FBI surveillance for years. Their legacy of considerable success invites readers to dream and to imagine, drawing paths that take them anywhere they want to go.


About Philip Nel

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Philip Nel, Manhattan, Kansas, teaches courses in children's and young adult literature, and serves as the director of Kansas State University's Program in Children's Literature. His books include Keywords for Children's Literature (co-edited with Lissa Paul), Tales for Little Rebels: A Collection of Radical Children's Literature (co-edited with Julia Mickenberg); The Annotated Cat: Under the Hats of Seuss and His Cats; Dr. Seuss: American Icon; and J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter Novels: A Reader's Guide.
Published July 20, 2012 by University Press of Mississippi. 368 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Children's Books, Literature & Fiction, Political & Social Sciences, Comics & Graphic Novels. Non-fiction

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Succumbing only occasionally to the temptation to drop tedious lists of family, friends or famous guests at various functions, Nel draws on a decade of archival research and more than 80 interviews to track their personal and professional relationships—notably with Maurice Sendak, whose career wa...

Jun 12 2012 | Read Full Review of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Kra...

The Wall Street Journal

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The children's classic "Harold and the Purple Crayon" had an anti-authoritarian tint.

Oct 05 2012 | Read Full Review of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Kra...

Kirkus Reviews

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Seeing children’s books as a field dominated by women, Red-hunters deemed it less important and so did not watch it as closely.” Whatever the reason, midcentury children’s literature unfolded in an atmosphere that encouraged experimentation, and with Krauss and Johnson and their liberal-minded c...

Sep 10 2012 | Read Full Review of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Kra...

Kirkus Reviews

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Nel writes that this book “has captivated so many people because Harold’s crayon not only embodies the imagination, but shows that the mind can change the world: What we dream can become real, nothing can become something.” Continue reading > ...

Aug 24 2012 | Read Full Review of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Kra...

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