Review: Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature

Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children's Literature
Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature by Philip Nel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Things to love about this book:

Nel adores his subjects and the warmth and fun come shining through, making this an easy and delightful read.

Crockett Johnson grew up in the Queens my elementary school teachers told us existed, but we never saw: marshes, wild lands, bodies of water you could touch, open space. I had a school principal who swore there were pheasants in our neighborhood when he was a young man. (He was twelve-thousand years old when he was our principal.) We did not believe him.

It’s wonderful to be reading this just after the Pete Seeger audiobook — Krauss and Johnson traveled in related political circles in the same era. I also crazy love the concept that we might owe some of the richness of the art and writing in the picture book world to the House Un-American Activities Committee blacklisting all those creative geniuses. Art will out!

More to love: Ruth Krauss studied anthropology with Margaret Mead. Knowing that “children quickly absorb the values of their culture; effecting change would require reaching children early in life” (p.66), she actively used her writing for children to advance the concept that we have one world and one human race, and that we should care for one another and protect everyone’s basic human rights. (Exclamation point!)

I am captivated by the richness of both their lives. They continually reinvented themselves professionally while remaining themselves in their personal lives. Krauss was an anthropologist on a mission, a writer for children, a mentor for young illustrators, a poet, an older woman still sure of her right to romance and sex. Johnson was a political cartoonist, worked in advertising, found his fame with Harold, and fell in love with mathematics in is last chapter, painting abstract concepts and even writing well-respected proofs for an academic audience! We should all be so driven, so creative, so lucky!

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