Johnson, Crockett 1906-1975

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Crockett Johnson 1906-1975

(Born David Johnson Leisk) American cartoonist, illustrator, and author of picture books.


The following entry presents an overview of critical commentary on Johnson’s work through 1986.


INTRODUCTION

As an author and illustrator of children’s books, Johnson is best known as the creator of Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955), the tale of a young boy who creates his own surreal world by drawing it with a crayon as he passes through. Harold and its subsequent sequels have become canonical works in children’s literature, attracting praise for their humorous storylines and innovative illustrations. Johnson is also known as the creator of "Barnaby," a comic strip revolving around a boy and his inefficient fairy godfather, Mr. O’Malley. "Barnaby" became one of the most acclaimed cartoons of the 1940s and 1950s, with Dorothy Parker famously declaring that the comic strip represented "the most important additions to American Arts and Letters in Lord knows how many years."



BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION

Johnson was born David Johnson Leisk on October 20, 1906, in New York City, to David Leisk and Ruth Burg. He was raised on Long Island, a location that imbued in him a lifelong love of sailing. In 1924 Johnson attended Cooper Union in New York City, where he studied art for a year before transferring to New York University. He worked as a contributing artist and art editor for several magazines and advertising agencies. Johnson’s liberal sympathies and left-wing politics influenced his career and, from 1934 to 1940, he worked as a political cartoonist for the radical leftist magazine New Masses. He attracted popular attention with his weekly cartoon strip "The Little Man with the Eyes," which he drew for Collier’s magazine from 1940 to 1943. In 1939 Johnson met children’s book author Ruth Krauss, whom he married in 1940. The couple moved to Connecticut, first to Darien, then to Rowayton on Long Island Sound, where Johnson could indulge in his love of sailing. Over the course of their marriage, Johnson illustrated three of Krauss’s children’s books: The Carrot Seed (1945), How to Make an Earthquake (1954), and The Happy Egg (1967). Johnson began drawing the daily cartoon strip "Barnaby" for the leftist magazine PM in 1942, and the phenomenal popularity of Barnaby and his friends led to the strip’s syndication in fifty-two American newspapers. Johnson wrote "Barnaby" until 1946, when he handed the work over to Jack Morely and Ted Ferro; however, Johnson remained as a story consultant and returned to draw the strip’s final episode in 1952. After "Barnaby" ended, Johnson began writing and publishing children’s books, beginning with Who’s Upside Down? in 1952. He eventually wrote and illustrated over twenty books for children, the most well-known coming from his series that began with Harold and the Purple Crayon. In 1963 Johnson and his wife moved to Westport, Connecticut, where he sailed and worked on children’s books until 1965, when his imagination was captured by the beauty of geometry. He devoted the next ten years to creating paintings that explored geometric shapes, producing over a hundred canvases, often using a computer to compose his designs. Johnson’s paintings were exhibited at the Glezer Gallery in New York City in 1967, at the Museum of Art, Science, and Industry in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1974, and posthumously at the Smithsonian Museum of History and Technology in Washington, D.C., in 1980. Johnson died of lung cancer in 1975, at the age of sixty-eight.

MAJOR WORKS

Before he began writing and illustrating books for children, Johnson created "Barnaby," which focuses on a five-year-old boy. When Barnaby wishes for a fairy godmother, a little man with pink wings and a squashed fedora comes crashing through his window exclaiming, "Cushlamochree!" The visitor introduces himself as Mr. O’Malley, his fairy godfather, who can conjure magic with his enchanted cigar. While creating untold problems and uncomfortable situations for his charge, Mr. O’Malley initiates Barnaby into a fanciful society of odd and humorous characters, who remain unseen to the normal inhabitants of Barnaby’s ordinary world. The stories revolve around such events as a scrap-metal drive, a visit to a child psychologist, and the exploration of a neighborhood haunted house, with a myriad of complications arising from the influence of invisible forces and imaginary friends. Two collections of the comic strip were published while it was still running in the daily papers—Barnaby in 1943 and Barnaby and Mr. O’Malley in 1944. The stories were adapted for the stage in 1946, for children’s theater in 1948, for a radio show in 1949, and for a television special on CBS in 1959. The original PM strips were republished in several volumes during the 1980s, including Mister O’Malley and the Haunted House (1985) and Jackeen J. O’Malley for Congress (1986).


In Harold and the Purple Crayon, a young boy named Harold creates his own adventurous excursion into the world with his purple crayon. Deciding to take a walk in the moonlight, Harold draws the moon and a path to walk on. He then draws himself in a forest, sailing an ocean, and at a picnic. Eventually, Harold gets tired and draws a city, where he creates his own window and draws his bed, ending his adventure as he falls asleep. With the aid of his crayon, Harold further explores the North Pole, the circus, and other locales in a series of well-received sequels. In Harold’s Fairy Tale: Further Adventures with the Purple Crayon (1956), Harold explores an enchanted garden where nothing grows. Using his purple crayon, he draws a castle and asks the king about the strange garden. Harold gets "lost" in a desert in his way to get a drink of water in Harold’s Trip to the Sky: More Adventures with the Purple Crayon (1957). Bored with the desert, Harold uses his crayon to create a rocket to travel on to the moon and beyond. Looking for a Christmas tree before Santa Claus’s arrival, Harold heads north in Harold at the North Pole: A Christmas Journey with the Purple Crayon (1958). There, Harold and his crayon help Santa recover from a powerful blizzard. In Harold’s Circus: An Astounding, Colossal Purple Crayon Event (1959), Harold and his crayon perform under the Big-Top, while in Harold’s ABC: Another Purple Crayon Adventure (1963), Harold explores the alphabet, using his crayon to change each letter into something beginning with that letter. In addition to his Harold books, Johnson has also published several other children’s works. Ellen’s Lion: Twelve Stories (1959) and The Lion’s Own Story: Eight New Stories about Ellen’s Lion (1963) are collections of brief stories consisting of dialogues between a child, Ellen, and her stuffed lion. Ellen has an active fantasy life, imagining herself as a knight, a mountain climber, a doctor, and a fireman. She is sometimes aided—reluctantly—by her lion, a realist who never forgets that he is stuffed, has button eyes, and no powers of locomotion. We Wonder What Will Walter Be, When He Grows Up? (1964) follows a young boy who is confused about his future career path. As a result, Walter asks a number of animals what he should be when he grows up. Each animal responds that he should grow up to be just like them—a giraffe thinks he should be a giraffe, a lion thinks he should be a lion—and so on. In Gordy and the Pirate, and the Circus Ringmaster, and the Knight, and the Major League Manager, and the Western Marshall, and the Astronaut, and a Remarkable Achievement (1965), the title character encounters a series of exciting and romantic figures on his way home from school, all of whom invite him on a tempting adventure. But Gordy remembers each time, right before he is about to leave on his new quest, that this is the day that he promised to come home right after school.

CRITICAL RECEPTION

Labelled by "Peanuts" creator Charles M. Schultz as "one of the great comic strips of all times," "Barnaby" has been recognized by critics and audiences alike as one of Johnson’s most enduring creations. Reviewers have appreciated the cartoon’s commentary on the absurdity of the adult world along with Johnson’s emphasis on the power of the imagination. Harold and the Purple Crayon reflects similar thematic material and the work has become a classic of twentieth-century children’s literature. Though some reviewers of the era were concerned that children would not be able to grasp the book’s surreal concept, Harold and the Purple Crayon has been consistently lauded for its creative blurring of the boundaries between reality and fantasy, dreaming and waking." Critics and child psychologists alike have commended Harold for stimulating the imaginations and artistic impulses of its readers. Peggy Whalen Levitt has observed that, "[p]erhaps nowhere are the boundaries of the artistic work more equivocal than in Crockett Johnson’s Harold books."




PRINCIPAL WORKS

Barnaby (cartoons) 1943

Barnaby and Mr. O’Malley (cartoons) 1944

The Carrot Seed [illustrator] (picture book) 1945

Who’s Upside Down? (picture book) 1952

How to Make an Earthquake [illustrator] (picture book) 1954

Willie’s Adventures: Three Stories [illustrator] (picture book) 1954

Harold and the Purple Crayon (picture book) 1955

Is This You? [Illustrator] (picture book) 1955

Barkis: Some Precise and Some Speculative Interpretations of the Meaning of a Dogs Bark at Certain Times and in Certain (illustrated) Circumstances (cartoons) 1956

Harold’s Fairy Tale: Further Adventures with the Purple Crayon (picture book) 1956

Harold’s Trip to the Sky: More Adventures with the Purple Crayon (picture book) 1957

Terrible, Terrifying Toby (picture book) 1957

Time for Spring (picture book) 1957

The Blue Ribbon Puppies (picture book) 1958

Harold at the North Pole: A Christmas Journey with the Purple Crayon (picture book) 1958

Merry Go Round (picture book) 1958

Ellen’s Lion: Twelve Stories (picture book) 1959

The Frowning Prince (picture book) 1959

Harold’s Circus: An Astounding, Colossal Purple Crayon Event (picture book) 1959

A Picture for Harold’s Room: A Purple Crayon Adventure (picture book) 1960

Will Spring Be Early or Will Spring Be Late? (picture book) 1960

Harold’s ABC: Another Purple Crayon Adventure (picture book) 1963

The Lion’s Own Story: Eight New Stories about Ellen’s Lion (picture book) 1963

We Wonder What Will Walter Be, When He Grows Up? (picture book) 1964

Castles in the Sand [illustrations by Betty Fraser] (picture book) 1965

The Emperor’s Gifts (picture book) 1965

Gordy and the Pirate, and the Circus Ringmaster, and the Knight, and the Major League Manager, and the Western Marshall, and the Astronaut, and a Remarkable Achievement (picture book) 1965

The Happy Egg [illustrator] (picture book) 1967

Upside Down (picture book) 1969

Mister O’Malley and the Haunted House (cartoons) 1985Jackeen J. O’Malley for Congress (cartoons) 1986



GENERAL COMMENTARY

Algis Budrys (review date October 1985)

SOURCE: Budrys, Algis. "Books." Fantasy and Science Fiction 69, no. 4 (October 1985): 57-8.

[In the following excerpt, Budrys discusses the rerelease of Johnson’s "Barnaby" strips in the collections Barnaby #1: Wanted: A Fairy Godfather, Mister O’Malley and the Haunted House, and Jackeen J. O’Malley for Congress.]


Hell with it. A cure for many a melancholy—a good, a lasting cure—is "Barnaby". Actually, are Barnaby, and his fairy godfather O’Malley.

You may not remember. It was not only before "Doonesbury" and "B.C.," it was before "Pogo." It was, in fact, contemporaneous with the concoction of Dondi, may that verkakter little waif’s eyes go blank. But Crockett Johnson’s daily strip nevertheless made cushlamochree a household word in the 1940s, and left fandom imprinted with permanent references to the Elves, Leprechauns, Gnomes and Little Men’s Chowder and Marching Society.

Barnaby’s successors may be seen in him; the practical-minded, wary little boy in his Doctor Dentons regards O’Malley’s antics with a bemused stare that was next everted by Pogo vis-a-vis Albert the Alligator. But there is a particular fey quality—a glamour—in the relationship between the little boy and the clumsy pixie (who looked exactly like a miniature Tammany Hall ward-heeler with pink wings, a green coat and a long cigar for a magic wand). It lacks all trace of violence seen as love, but it nevertheless reminds me of Krazy Kat and Offisa Pup, along with the brick-hurling Ignatz Mouse, the only mentionable predecessors to Johnson’s sweet, wonderful invention.

It ran long enough to be enshrinable in several books, and so Ballantine’s current release,Barnaby #1: Wanted: A Fairy Godfather, will be followed by Mister O’Malley and the Haunted House (which will contain the sequences with Gus the Ghost), by Jackeen J. O’Malley for Congress, and, finally,Mister O’Malley Goes for the Gold. That will be all. It will not be enough, but it will be the most that Johnson could give us.



Stanley Schmidt (review date August 1986)

SOURCE: Schmidt, Stanley. "In Times to Come." Analog 106, no. 8 (August 1986): 182-83.


[In the following excerpt, Schmidt commends the republication of Johnson’s "Barnaby" comic strips, noting the author’s "unique blend of whimsical fantasy and gentle satire."]


Cushlamochree! Nobody ever said Crockett Johnson’s comic strip "Barnaby," which ran from 1942 to 1952, was science fiction—but it will appeal to many Analog readers anyway. Those of you who are old enough will remember its unique blend of whimsical fantasy and gentle satire, with characters like five-year-old Barnaby who wishes for a fairy godmother and instead gets Mr. O’Malley, a bombastic and bumbling fairy godfather who smokes Havana cigars and occasionally runs for Congress (and wins). For those too young to remember, I don’t have room to tell you much about such other characters as Launcelot McSnoyd, the snide (and invisible) leprechaun with a Brooklyn accent; Atlas the Mental Giant; Gorgon the talking dog (and incorrigible punster); and Gus, the erudite but decidedly unprepossessing ghost. But I do have room to recommend strongly that you acquaint yourself with them forthwith, now that you have the opportunity for the first time in over thirty years.

I have, I must confess, ulterior motives. You see, I’m not really old enough to remember Barnaby from his first incarnation. Until now, I knew him and his friends only from a single paperback volume which my parents owned (and I wore out) when I was growing up. Now the Del Reys have started reissuing the entire run of the strip in a new series of paperback books. They have enough material for twelve, I’m told. So far they have issued three:Wanted: A Fairy Godmother, Mr. O’Malley and the Haunted House, andJackeen J. O’Malley for Congress. Whether the series is completed will depend on how well the first three sell.

So please buy them. I want the other nine.

You’ll enjoy them, too.




TITLE COMMENTARY

BARNABY AND MR. O’MALLEY (1944)

Booklist (review date 1 November 1944)

SOURCE: Review of Barnaby and Mr. O’Malley, by Crockett Johnson. Booklist 41, no. 4 (1 November 1944): 73-4.


Eight episodes from the popular newspaper comic strip about a little boy and his fairy godfather. Barnaby, the wide-eyed child, bombastic Mr. O’Malley, the pudgy, pink-winged godfather, Gus the ghost, and Gorgon the talking dog, are some of the characters in this modern fairy tale [Barnaby and Mr. O’Malley ]. Simple drawing and fanciful humor distinguish the strip from the usual comics. Adult and adolescent appeal rather than juvenile, but the book might be used with older children as a substitute for comic books. The first compilation wasBarnaby.


HAROLD AND THE PURPLE CRAYON (1955)

Virginia Haviland (review date October 1955)

SOURCE: Haviland, Virginia. Review of Harold and the Purple Crayon, by Crockett Johnson. Horn Book Magazine 31, no. 5 (October 1955): 362-63.

An ingenious and original little picture story [Harold and the Purple Crayon ] in which a small boy out for a walk—happily with a crayon in his hand—draws himself some wonderful adventures. It is all so simple and convincing, to make the moon where there should be a moon for a walk in the moonlight, and a path to keep one from getting lost. And so, on and on, with a tree in a forest and a "terribly frightening dragon" drawn to guard the apples—until Harold knows he should be getting to bed. With just a few more adventures, including making the bed, he is there! This is a little book that will be loved, for Crockett Johnson’s wide-eyed little boy and his simple lines in purple crayon are the kind of illustration to stimulate the imagination. They will suggest similar drawing adventures.


Booklist (review date 15 October 1955)

SOURCE: Review of Harold and the Purple Crayon, by Crockett Johnson. Booklist 52, no. 4 (15 October 1955): 83.

One evening Harold decided to go for a walk in the moonlight [inHarold and the Purple Crayon ]. There wasn’t any moon so Harold drew a moon with his purple crayon; he needed something to walk on so he drew a path. With that Harold set off on his walk taking his big purple crayon with him. Small children will be highly entertained by the series of adventures that Harold cleverly draws himself in and out of in this ingenious pocket-size book. Should stimulate similar creative efforts in imaginative children.


Pamela O. Marsh (review date 10 November 1955)

SOURCE: Marsh, Pamela O. Review of Harold and the Purple Crayon, by Crockett Johnson. Christian Science Monitor (10 November 1955): 7B.

Harold and the Purple Crayon, by Crockett Johnson is a simple story for three-to-six’s. It has a picture on every page, and the owner can "read" the pictures himself once he has heard the brief text.

The story, told with whimsical logic, is of a walk Harold took—or rather, drew. With his purple crayon he draws his way, the scenery and a picnic of nine pies. He even draws an eager moose and porcupine to eat up the leftovers. He draws his own difficulties and his own conclusions, too.


Parents who are invited to share the book will be enchanted for Harold is such a resourceful, polite child—"The policeman pointed the way Harold was going anyway. But Harold thanked him"—and his adventures are full of surprise.



Publishers Weekly (review date 22 May 1981)

SOURCE: Review of Harold and the Purple Crayon, by Crockett Johnson. Publishers Weekly 219, no. 21 (22 May 1981): 77.


The late Johnson’s picture stories are still as magically beguiling as when they appeared during the 1950s. [Harold and the Purple Crayon ], the first of four books about the child Harold (1955), tells about and shows a whirl of adventures on the night Harold takes his big purple crayon on a stroll. He draws a moon to light his way and many other things that provide fun before he gets back to bed.

Peggy Whalen Levitt (review date March 1986)

SOURCE: Levitt, Peggy Whalen. "Breaking Frame: Bordering on Illusion." School Library Journal 32, no. 7 (March 1986): 100, 102.


Perhaps nowhere are the boundaries of the artistic work more equivocal than in Crockett Johnson’s Harold books. When we are first introduced toHarold and the Purple Crayon (1955), Harold is not unlike other child characters wielding crayons; we observe his drawings as drawings. But Harold’s drawings become the world of the work within which he himself is a character. They are simultaneously "the thing represented" and "the representing itself." As Harold draws an ocean and sinks into it, or draws a candy cane and climbs it, the beholder shifts attention back and forth between the content of Harold’s world and the means by which that world is constructed.


HAROLD’S FAIRY TALE: FURTHER ADVENTURES WITH THE PURPLE CRAYON (1956)

Virginia Haviland (review date October 1956)

SOURCE: Haviland, Virginia. Review of Harold and the Purple Crayon, by Crockett Johnson. Horn Book Magazine 32, no. 5 (October 1956): 346.

Children who have demanded rereadings ofHarold and the Purple Crayon will welcome the news that Harold has gone adventuring again with crayon in hand [inHarold’s Fairy Tale ]. Here he has drawn himself into an enchanted garden, but he can hardly call it a garden for nothing grows in it—until his adventure is over and he has created a castle and a king, a giant witch, some flowers and a fairy. It happens as naturally and has as many surprises as his earlier jaunt.


HAROLD’S TRIP TO THE SKY: MORE ADVENTURES WITH THE PURPLE CRAYON (1957)

Booklist (review date 1 December 1957)

SOURCE: Review of Harold’s Trip to the Sky: More Adventures with the Purple Crayon, by Crockett Johnson. Booklist 54, no. 7 (1 December 1957): 207-08.

The little boy with the active imagination and the purple crayon is back to draw for himself a third adventure, this time taking off in a rocket for outer space [inHarold’s Trip to the Sky ]. Harold misses the moon by a mile, lands on Mars, scares himself with a Martian of his own creation, and scampers off home to a breakfast of hot oatmeal. While some of the concepts here may be too advanced for the youngest of Harold’s usual audience this little picture book offers good fun for kindergarten-age space travelers.


TERRIBLE, TERRIFYING TOBY (1957)

Christian Science Monitor (review date 10 October 1957)

SOURCE: "Widening Horizons." Christian Science Monitor 49, no. 268 (10 October 1957): 13.

Mr. Johnson has a way with the smallest, tenderest baby creatures—boys or puppies. And now swaggering along comes a new puppy [inTerrible, Terrifying Toby ], curious, brash, delightful, timid, to take a place in your heart. Toby believes he can scare all manner of things—things as alarming as a small bird and a minute frog. But the thing he scares at the end is the most terrifying, yet the most endearing and familiar of them all. Despite its horrific title, chuckles, not prickles, are guaranteed for the three- to six-year-olds.


THE BLUE RIBBON PUPPIES (1958)

Dorothy Garey (review date 15 October 1958)

SOURCE: Garey, Dorothy. Review of The Blue Ribbon Puppies, by Crockett Johnson. Library Journal 83, no. 18 (15 October 1958): 3003.

[InThe Blue Ribbon Puppies, a] boy and girl start to put a blue ribbon on the best of seven puppies but find that each puppy is so choice in his particular way that seven ribbons are needed. Thus, the tallest, the shortest, the smallest, the longest, the shaggiest, etc., are suitably rewarded. Amusing small picture book for kindergarten through second grade, and for picture-book hour. Recommended for school and public libraries where needed.


HAROLD AT THE NORTH POLE: A CHRISTMAS JOURNEY WITH THE PURPLE CRAYON (1958)

Dorothy MacDonald (review date 15 November 1958)

SOURCE: MacDonald, Dorothy. Review of Harold at the North Pole: A Christmas Journey with the Purple Crayon, by Crockett Johnson. Library Journal 83, no. 20 (15 November 1958): 3297.


In another small book of imaginative adventure [Harold at the North Pole ] similar toHarold’s Trip to the Sky andHarold’s Fairy Tale, Harold sets off with his purple crayon to find a Christmas tree. He draws his way to Santa’s workshop via the North Pole. Santa is snowed in, but the marvelous crayon provides the solution that sends him off on his annual journey. All pages are white with purple line drawings and black print.



ELLEN’S LION: TWELVE STORIES (1959)

Publishers Weekly (review date 6 April 1984)

SOURCE: Review of Ellen’s Lion: Twelve Stories, by Crockett Johnson. Publishers Weekly 225, no. 14 (6 April 1984): 75.


Launching the Storyteller series, reprints of outstanding hardcovers, Johnson’s Ellen and her stuffed lion star here in 12 zesty adventures [Ellen’s Lion ]. Drawings of the characters against a background of blazing orange heighten the merriment in the episodes. These arise from the little girl’s determination to convince the lion that her imaginary feats are real. The practical lion, on the other hand, tries but fails to curb her fanciful flights. In "Trip to Arabia," Ellen insists that the lion get aboard her toy train and journey to the exotic locale. When the lion says the train doesn’t go anywhere except around in that circle on the floor, the girl stuffs him into a car and off he goes, to disappear in the tunnel. This development is more inspiration for Ellen, as events in the other 11 gems are.



THE FROWNING PRINCE (1959)

Elsie T. Dobbins (review date 15 April 1959)

SOURCE: Dobbins, Elsie T. Review of The Frowning Prince, by Crockett Johnson. Library Journal 84, no. 8 (15 April 1959): 1330.


Once upon a time there was a little prince who thought he had an immovable frown, until he met the princess with the irresistible smile. A moral tale? Yes, but Crockett Johnson has a most appealing way of illustrating and writing, and though [The Frowning Prince ] is not quite up to his usual style, it will take its place on the picture-story shelves.



HAROLD’S CIRCUS: AN ASTOUNDING, COLOSSAL PURPLE CRAYON EVENT (1959)

Dorothy MacDonald (review date 15 April 1959)

SOURCE: MacDonald, Dorothy. Review of Harold’s Circus: An Astounding, Colossal Purple Crayon Event, by Crockett Johnson. Library Journal 84, no. 8 (15 April 1959): 1330.


Purple crayon in hand, Harold draws a tight-rope and falls from it into a circus [Harold’s Circus ]. There, his magic crayon leads him to an elephant, a lion, a fat lady, a tall man, clowns, and a lemonade man. As in the previous books, the dauntless Harold is resourceful and lovable, appealing as much to adults as to children. All pages are white with purple line drawings.



Margaret Warren Brown (review date June 1959)

SOURCE: Brown, Margaret Warren. Review of Harold’s Circus: An Astounding, Colossal Purple Crayon Event, by Crockett Johnson. Horn Book Magazine 35, no. 3 (June 1959): 204.


One night Harold, with the help of his purple crayon, went for a walk on a tightrope which, naturally enough, led into a circus and even into a lion’s jaws—the teeth were added after Harold had removed his head and he was astonished at how brave he had been. Unlike so many sequels, this new adventure of Harold and his magic crayon [Harold’s Circus ] does not disappoint—it is as fresh and imaginative as ever.



A PICTURE FOR HAROLD’S ROOM: A PURPLE CRAYON ADVENTURE (1960)

Virginia Haviland (review date June 1960)

SOURCE: Haviland, Virginia. Review of A Picture for Harold’s Room: A Purple Crayon Adventure, by Crockett Johnson. Horn Book Magazine 36, no. 3 (June 1960): 213.


Mr. Johnson has brought Harold to the "I Can Read" set who, after having enjoyed listening to the earlier stories, can now at the end of the first grade read to themselves about his further adventures [inA Picture for Harold’s Room ]. The page is larger and the type wide-spaced, but Harold is still filling the spreads with his purple drawings. There is mystery here—even danger—for while Harold is drawing a picture for his room, he discovers that he has diminished to only half the size of a daisy. A problem!—but he solves it, of course.


WILL SPRING BE EARLY OR WILL SPRING BE LATE? (1960)

Doris M. Blasco (review date 15 April 1960)

SOURCE: Blasco, Doris M. Review of Will Spring Be Early or Will Spring Be Late?, by Crockett Johnson. Library Journal 85, no. 8 (15 April 1960): 1684.

Groundhog creates an hilarious confusion among the animals [inWill Spring Be Early or Will Spring Be Late? ] when he erroneously predicts an early spring. This is a very funny story all young children will enjoy. Vocabulary is easy, print large, and author’s illustrations amusing, as they should be.


HAROLD’S ABC: ANOTHER PURPLE CRAYON ADVENTURE (1963)

Ethel L. Heins (review date October 1963)

SOURCE: Heins, Ethel L. Review of Harold’s ABC: Another Purple Crayon Adventure, by Crockett Johnson. Horn Book Magazine 39, no. 5 (October 1963): 495.

Harold, with characteristic resourcefulness, deciding "one evening to take a trip through the alphabet," has created a unique kind of ABC book [Harold’s ABC ]. Taking along his purple crayon, he journeys from A to Z, each letter actually generating a picture from which the word becomes part of an uninterrupted story. ". . . Harold was surprised to see something higher than he was. It was only the next letter of the alphabet, [F] flying from the roof. F is for Flag." With dynamic motion and continuity unusual in an ABC book, this represents an ingenious combination of verbal and visual appeal.


WE WONDER WHAT WILL WALTER BE, WHEN HE GROWS UP? (1964)

Library Journal (review date 15 January 1965)

SOURCE: Review of We Wonder What Will Walter Be, When He Grows Up?, by Crockett Johnson. Library Journal 90, no. 2 (15 January 1965): 376.

A deceptively simple looking picture book in the familiar artistic style of the Harold stories, [We Wonder What Will Walter Be, When He Grows Up? ] offers a little more food for thought than most picture books these days. Walter, wondering what his future should be, consults the animals he encounters along the wayside: the lion, the antelope, the mole, and so on. The lion, a brave thinker, recommends that he become a lion; the antelope, the fastest thinker, wants him to be an antelope; the mole, the deepest thinker of them all, feels that Walter should follow in his footsteps. The play on words provides whimsical slightly subtle humor for the youngest, and Walter draws his own conclusion. My conclusion is that this book is lots of fun.



Ethel L. Heins (review date February 1965)

SOURCE: Heins, Ethel L. Review of We Wonder What Will Walter Be, When He Grows Up?, by Crockett Johnson. Horn Book Magazine 41, no. 1 (February 1965): 41.


Poor young Walter cannot decide what to be when he grows up [inWe Wonder What Will Walter Be, When He Grows Up? ]. He takes his problem to the Lion, who summons the best thinkers in his kingdom for the great decision: Antelope, the swiftest thinker; Mole, the deepest; Flamingo, the brightest; Giraffe, the loftiest; Elephant, the biggest; Turtle, the hardest. The animals’ egotism only adds to Walter’s confusion until he acquires at last a small measure of wisdom and independence. A gentle parable, illustrated with clean, direct, uncluttered colored drawings.



Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books (review date May 1965)

SOURCE: Review of We Wonder What Will Walter Be, When He Grows Up?, by Crockett Johnson. Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books 18, no. 9 (May 1965): 130.


Walter, a small boy, consults several animals about his choice for the future [inWe Wonder What Will Walter Be, When He Grows Up? ]; each animal suggests his own kind—the antelope, for example, thinks that Walter ought to become an antelope. The idea is not highly original, but the writing has a bouncy humor that combines nonsense ideas and dignified dialogue. In suggesting that Walter consult a giraffe, the lion says, "High thinking . . . I can’t imagine deciding so serious a question without a goodly amount of elevated thought, can you?" Walter’s response: "What?" . . . then, "Oh.", flatly. This humor is exactly what children of eight or nine (and up) find delicious, but it is discrepant in a book with subject and format that is suitable for the pre-school audience.

CASTLES IN THE SAND (1965)

Kirkus Reviews (review date 15 February 1965)

SOURCE: Review of Castles in the Sand, by Crockett Johnson, illustrated by Betty Fraser. Kirkus Reviews 33, no. 4 (15 February 1965): 171.


Castles in the Sand is one of those elusive storylines. Two children write simple words in the beach sand. Each time, a wave rolls in and leaves behind what they’ve written—bread, milk and jam. They get ambitious. They write "KING." With the king thus produced they discuss the nature of their gift with plays on the word "spell" and on the idea of the magic in words. They spell out and obtain for the king a kingdom and a horse. He rides off into his domain commanding them not to follow. They discuss his right to do this . . . It’s his kingdom but it’s their story. Before they can write a request for transportation in the sand, a wave wipes everything out and they’re left with only a shell in which to listen to the sea. This symbolic, subtle presentation of the wizardry in words, the nature of fiction and an author’s tenuous control when a powerful story takes over, etc. is a difficult concept to get across in any case. It is not clear here. Some of the illustrations are effective in their use of line and color. About a half dozen showing the children’s faces are done in a style that suggests Coloring Book Modern. To complete the symbol hunt—what do you suppose that final wave is? Reviewers splashing cold water?



Anne Izard (review date 15 May 1965)

SOURCE: Izard, Anne. Review of Castles in the Sand, by Crockett Johnson, illustrated by Betty Fraser. Library Journal 90, no. 10 (15 May 1965): 2396.


Ben and Ann playing on a strange beach make magic by writing words in the sand [inCastles in the Sand ]. Each word materializes before them, and they are in the midst of a story happening around them until the tide washes the sand smooth again. Literal-minded small children may be confused by the blend of fantasy and real life without any definite delineation between the two. Betty Fraser’s pictures have the delicacy to match the text.

Estelle B. Williamson (review date January 1966)

SOURCE: Williamson, Estelle B. Review of Castles in the Sand, by Crockett Johnson, illustrated by Betty Fraser. Childhood Education 42, no. 5 (January 1966): 314.


Walking along the seashore [inCastles in the Sand ], Ann and Ben discover a smooth flat beach they have never seen before. As Ben begins to write words such as jam, bread, milk, tree, king, these objects appear and through fantasy a kingdom is formed. Suddenly the tide covers the magic kingdom. A make-believe story almost real.



Times Literary Supplement (review date 30 November 1967)

SOURCE: Review of Castles in the Sand, by Crockett Johnson, illustrated by Betty Fraser. Times Literary Supplement, no. 3431 (30 November 1967): 1136.


[W]hat is difficult to assess is whether a single, simple theme . . . makes a book which a child will read and re-read in the way he will return again and again to a more ordinary theme, rooted in the reality he can recognize. The . . . doubt may arise about Castles in the Sand, written around a single good idea. Ben and Ann draw their wishes in the wet sand and see them appear before their eyes: jam, milk in crystal goblets, a king, a kingdom, knights, a forest; the tide comes in and carries them all away; only the sound of the sea in a shell remains. The pictures are decorative and elegant, and the colour lovely. This is one of the best values for money, beautifully produced.



THE EMPEROR’S GIFTS (1965)

Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 July 1965)

SOURCE: Review of The Emperor’s Gifts, by Crockett Johnson. Kirkus Reviews 33, no. 13 (1 July 1965): 621-22.


Six rulers from surrounding kingdoms waited upon the youngest and newest member of their fraternity with typical gifts [inThe Emperor’s Gifts ]. King Drowse the Lazy brought a vial full of Contentment. King Wot the Learned brought the juice of Wisdom. King Rash the Foolhardy brought a beaker full of Bravery. King Daunt the Scary brought a bottle of Prudence. King Squander the Lavish brought a jug of Generosity. King Grab the Greedy presented him with a flagon of Ambition. The little Emperor’s quandary was what to give them in return. His solution is as simple as it is clever. He works a switch on the old shell game, appropriately shifting containers—King Drowse gets a snort of Ambition, King Daunt takes a belt of Bravery, etc., etc. Crockett Johnson is back on the track after his wash-out,Castles in the Sand (1965). His little Emperor is the characteristic and always appealing Johnson figure familiar from the "Barnaby" cartoon strip days. Catchy and re-tellable.



Johanna Hurwitz (review date 15 October 1965)

SOURCE: Hurwitz, Johanna. Review of The Emperor’s Gifts, by Crockett Johnson. Library Journal 90, no. 18 (15 October 1965): 4606.


Six kings come to visit the young emperor [inThe Emperor’s Gift ] (who closely resembles Harold, minus his purple crayon) and each brings a gift: wisdom, bravery, prudence, etc. The emperor in turn presents each gift to one of the kings who seems in need of these virtues. It is a simple story, a parable, but the moral of which preschoolers may not understand. In style it is tedious and its orange pages are not pleasing to the eye. The story lacks the childlike charm which had made the Harold stories so popular. This is one Crockett Johnson title libraries can do without.



GORDY AND THE PIRATE, AND THE CIRCUS RINGMASTER, AND THE KNIGHT, AND THE MAJOR LEAGUE MANAGER, AND THE WESTERN MARSHALL, AND THE ASTRONAUT, AND A REMARKABLE ACHIEVEMENT (1965)

Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 November 1965)

SOURCE: Review of Gordy and the Pirate, and the Circus Ringmaster, and the Knight, and the Major League Manager, and the Western Marshall, and the Astronaut, and a Remarkable Achievement, by Crockett Johnson. Kirkus Reviews 33, no. 21 (1 November 1965): 1116.


The commentators on the course of American humor have long noted a national tendency toward self-ridicule and the self-embarrassing personal anecdote. [Gordy and the Pirate ] aids and abets the predilection as few juveniles do. Gordy was a dawdler. On the way home from school, every fence or outcropping lured him to stop and play. On the very day he had promised to go straight home, a pirate invited him to search for treasure. Further up the block he had the chance to become a star circus rider. Closer to home, he had offers to become a marshall, an astronaut and a big league bonus boy. The hitch in each case was that he had to start right away. Gordy was a man of his word. He got home. The conversation he carries on with each of his tempters is genuinely funny. Dawdling is one of those widely shared small sins that gets a lot of nagging. This teases instead and it comes accompanied by the author’s familiar and appealing cartoons.



Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books (review date September 1966)

SOURCE: Review of Gordy and the Pirate, and the Circus Ringmaster, and the Knight, and the Major League Manager, and the Western Marshall, and the Astronaut, and a Remarkable Achievement, by Crockett Johnson. Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books 20, no. 1 (September 1966): 13.


A series of episodes imagined by a small boy named Gordy, very dreams-of-glory and, as the publisher suggests, in the Walter Mitty vein. Gordy’s secret life in [Gordy and the Pirate ] consists of an assortment of incidents in which he is being wooed for some great contribution (a trip to Venus that cannot be made without Gordy, a baseball offer with an astronomical bonus, and so on) but which Gordy must reluctantly turn down. The reason? "I promised to come straight home from school today." And, despite all the day-dreaming about great achievements, Gordy does manage to go straight home. For once. The book is mildly amusing, but doesn’t quite have the flair of Ellen’s Lion or the author’s even better-known Harold stories.



UPSIDE DOWN (1969)

Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books (review date September 1969)

SOURCE: Review of Upside Down, by Crockett Johnson. Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books 23, no. 1 (September 1969): 11.


Crockett Johnson uses a baffled kangaroo to explore the idea of down and up as related to gravity [inUpside Down ]. Seeing a map, the kangaroo is distressed because she is upside-down. Her joey calmly turns the book around, and the kangaroo is content. Meanwhile the author has explained that "down" is toward the earth wherever you are; the idea is a bit labored but not too cloudy. The light style ("When a thing seems to be so, a kangaroo hops to the conclusion that it is so.") gives appeal, but the concept doesn’t come across.


Ruth Hill Viguers (review date December 1969)

SOURCE: Viguers, Ruth Hill. Review of Upside Down, by Crockett Johnson. Horn Book Magazine 45, no. 6 (December 1969): 663-64.

"’Everything is right in its place. . . . And we are on top of the world,’" sang the kangaroo to the sleeping son in her pouch, as she hopped along looking for tender grass [inUpside Down ]. But, coming upon a geography book that someone had dropped, she looked at a picture and saw that she was really upside down. She wailed over this distressing fact until her child suggested turning the book around. In the author-artist’s familiar cartoon drawings the concept of a round world—and of viewpoints in general—is given very amusing interpretation.


Will S. Levy (review date 15 May 1970)

SOURCE: Levy, Will S. Review of Upside Down, by Crockett Johnson. Library Journal 95, no. 10 (15 May 1970): 59-60.

Like the author’s Harold stories, this mediocre book [Upside Down ] is also handsized (5" × 6"). The story involves a whimsical kangaroo and her son, who are unduly concerned about whether they are upside down or right side up after they discover a geography book. When her baby turns the book upside down, the kangaroo is enabled to continue believing that her view of things is indeed from the "top of the world." The illustrations (brown, black, and orange plus much white space) are pleasing, with the kangaroo and son appearing gentle and humorous; but the story is too bland and seems off center from a contemporary point of view.




FURTHER READING

Biography

"Crockett Johnson." In Current Biography 1943, edited by Maxine Block, pp. 345-47. New York, N.Y.: H. W. Wilson Co., 1943.

A biographical sketch focusing on Johnson’s personal life and career.

"Crockett Johnson." In Current Biography Yearbook 1984, edited by Charles Moritz, p. 473. New York, N.Y.: H. W. Wilson Co., 1984.

An updated biographical sketch focusing on Johnson’s personal life and career.


Criticism

Buell, Ellen Lewis. "Fantasy Free-Hand." New York Times Book Review (21 October 1956): 48.

Offers a critical assessment of Harold’s Fairy Tale.


——. "Anything Can Happen." New York Times 106, no. 36219 (24 March 1957): 42.

Assesses the strengths and weaknesses of Time for Spring.


Elseman, Alberta. "Selections from the Picture Book Shelf." New York Times Book Review (10 November 1963): 52.

Presents a brief overview of Harold’s ABC.


Goodwin, Polly. "The Junior Bookshelf." Chicago Sunday Tribune (2 October 1955): section 4, p. 10.

Compliments Johnson’s creative illustrations in Harold and the Purple Crayon.

——. "Junior Bookshelf." Chicago Sunday Tribune (4 November 1956): section 4, p. 10.

Offers a critical assessment of Harold’s Fairy Tale.

Halliday, Bob. "Barnaby’s Back." Book World 16, no. 23 (8 June 1986): 10.

Discusses the enduring charm and popularity of Johnson’s "Barnaby" series.

Libby, Margaret Sherwood. New York Herald Tribune Book Review 35, no. 38 (17 May 1959): 9.

Compares The Frowning Prince to Harold and the Purple Crayon.


Nel, Philip. "’Never Overlook the Art of the Seemingly Simple’: Crockett Johnson and the Politics of the Purple Crayon." Children’s Literature 29 (2001): 142-76.

Compiles a lengthy critical interpretation of Johnson’s oeuvre, discussing the significance of the author’s Harold series and the recurring theme of upbeat simplicity throughout his works.

Review of Wanted: A Fairy Godfather and Mr. O’Malley and the Haunted House, by Crockett Johnson. Science Fiction Chronicle 7, no. 5 (February 1986): 34.

Lauds the collections of Johnson’s "Barnaby" comic strips in Wanted: A Fairy Godfather and Mr. O’Malley and the Haunted House.



Additional coverage of Johnson’s life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12R, 57-60; Literature Resource Center; Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults, Eds. 1, 2; St. James Guide to Children’s Writers, Vol. 5; and Something about the Author, Vols. 1, 26, 30.


About this article

Johnson, Crockett 1906-1975

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