Meet the Creator of Harold and the Purple Crayon
by Alexie Basil, Amber Green, and Alana Pedalino
After reading Harold and the Purple Crayon, it came as no surprise to learn that the book’s creator, Crockett Johnson, led a fascinating and colorful life.
We discovered many interesting things about Crockett while researching him for this post, and we’re so excited to share them with you. Read with your students to kick-start an excellent author study—and learn what this fascinating children’s book creator accomplished beyond writing the classic story we all know and love.
As a child, David’s friends called him “Crockett” (perhaps after the 19th-century frontiersman Davy Crockett!). When David wrote books, he used his nickname and middle name since he believed “Leisk” was too hard to pronounce—and so the pen name Crockett Johnson was born.
Crockett Johnson’s best-known characters, Barnaby and Harold, are known for their round, bald heads (with only a few stray hairs). Crockett was bald too, and he drew himself in this 1941 self-portrait (above) with the same style head and hair as his characters.
Crockett Johnson was so inspired by math that he created more than a hundred paintings exploring complex mathematical problems. His paintings were inspired by James Newman’s The World of Mathematics (a book funded by NASA). Eighty of the original one hundred paintings now belong to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History and can be viewed in their digital collection online here! Be sure to read the fascinating painting descriptions to learn more about what they represent.
After Crockett and his wife, Ruth Krauss, moved to Rowayton, Connecticut, they were frequently visited by the young Maurice Sendak—the creator of Where the Wild Things Are. Maurice credits Crockett and Ruth with shaping him into the artist he became. “If there’s anything I’m proud of in my work…[it’s] what I got from Ruth and [Dave]: a kind of fierce honesty, to not let the kid down, to not let the kid get punished, to not suffer the child to be dealt with in a boring, simpering, crushing-of-the-spirit kind of way,” Sendak said in a 2005 NPR interview.
Crockett’s comic strip, Barnaby, starred Barnaby Baxter—a young boy with a secret fairy godfather named Mr. O’Malley. After being published in the newspaper PM in the 1940s, Barnaby was eventually syndicated in 52 newspapers throughout the United States, with a combined circulation of nearly 5,600,000. Later, Barnaby was adapted for theater, radio, and television. It had a combined circulation of about 5,600,000 newspapers during its run!
Did you enjoy learning about Crockett Johnson’s colorful life? Challenge your students to find other fun facts about the Harold and the Purple Crayon creator for a fun author study in your classroom.
To learn more about Crockett Johnson, check out Philip Nel’s biography, Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature.
This Book Is Available from Scholastic Book Clubs