Today marks the start of a new feature on Secrets of the Sandpit, in which nostalgic, book-loving bloggers review their favourite children’s books. Every first Monday of the month, come and nod along in agreement to someone’s appraisal of your own favourite books or discover classics you may have missed out on. The first tentative start to this feature was my review of Joan Aiken’s Wolves of Willoughby Chase series, which you can read here.
Here to properly kick us off is Julie, English Lit graduate and self-professed needlecrafting maniac from Button, Button, with her review of Harold and the Purple Crayon. You should also know that she is American – just in case you are wondering why she spells ‘favourite’ wrong.
It look less than a minute to choose Harold and the Purple Crayon as my favorite children’s book. Crockett Johnson’s classic has always been special to me. It doesn’t even live on the shelf with the nostalgic books from my childhood, I keep it on the ‘important’ shelf, with the fancy editions of Jane Austen, my vintage Nancy Drew, and my over-read, worn copy of Catcher in the Rye. It’s not just any old book.
If you’ve never read Harold and the Purple Crayon, shame on you, but here’s the general idea: a little boy (Harold) heads out into the world with nothing but his trusty purple crayon and draws his way in and out of adventures. He crosses land and water, meets a frightening dragon, makes (and shares!) pie and finds his way back home when he’s ready. Harold’s purple crayon literally paves the way: when he needs a path, his crayon is at the ready to draw one for him to walk on.
Wanting to know a little about Crockett Johnson and this book I’ve loved since before I can remember, I dug around in the internet a bit and became completely entranced. I would never have guessed Harold had been around since 1955 – of course I associate him with my own childhood in the 1980s – and that he was written by a man who had (at various times in his life), been editor of a “radical” political magazine, a cartoonist, patent-holder for a four-way adjustable mattress, praised by Dorothy Parker and painter of mathematical paintings based on complex equations. He and his wife (children’s author Ruth Krauss) also worked with and inspired the late, so great Maurice Sendak, and are known as the first children’s writers who wrote for children, not just about them. And yes, you feel that reading Harold and the Purple Crayon – this is not only a story about a boy, it’s from his perspective. He behaves like a real child – his imagination running wild, bound not even by the edge of the paper.
Because it resonates with me on a personal level, especially at this time in my life, today I read Harold as a story about someone finding their own path, designing their own world – and navigating through it on their own, armed with creativity, curiosity and courage. He’s not afraid to ask for help, but it’s up to him to make the right choices. Of course, you may read it completely differently and it would still be a wonderful story – and isn’t that the way the best art should be?