Crockett Johnson and Ruth KraussHow an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children's Literature

Crockett Johnson and Ruth KraussHow an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children's Literature

Philip Nel

Print publication date: 2014

ISBN: 9781617036248

Publisher: University Press of Mississippi

Abstract

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 such 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, the book draws a portrait of a couple whose output encompassed children’s literature, comics, graphic design, and the fine arts. It examines their mentorship of now-famous illustrator Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are), as well as 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.