Preview: biography of Johnson and Krauss. First sentence & last sentence.

The manuscript is still going to be cut further, but — as it currently stands — here are the first and final sentences of the book. First sentence (from the Introduction): When a stranger knocked on Crockett Johnson’s front door one mild Friday in August 1950, he was not expecting was a visit from the…

Invent Title for My Book, Win Signed Copy of the Book

The title is currently The Purple Crayon and a Hole to Dig: The Lives of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss.  Today, my editor writes that he and his colleagues “find the main title problematic. It’s lengthy and isn’t evocative to anyone who isn’t already familiar with Johnson or Krauss, and so doesn’t draw the lay…

Speak, Topiary

The capacity to surprise is a sign of a true artist.  Though famous for his visual and verbal wit, Lane Smith has written a gentle, moving book about growing old. Grandpa Green has humor, but it relegates its sole joke to a footnote.  (After reporting that in fourth grade, Grandpa Green “got chicken pox,” Smith…

Professional Autodidact; or, How I Became a Children’s Literature Professor

I teach children’s literature, write books about children’s literature, and direct a graduate program in children’s literature.  But I’ve never taken a single course in children’s literature, neither as a graduate student nor as an undergraduate student.  I have no formal training in the field of my alleged expertise. So, in the words of David…

Wordplay: A Mix About Language

In North America, those of us who are teachers or students are thinking about school.  In August and September, the summer holidays end, and a new term begins.  To commemorate (or commiserate?) this season last year, I posted Dark Sarcasm in the Classroom: A Back-to-School Mix.  This year, I’m posting a mix about language.  Enjoy!…

Study Shows Dr. Seuss Makes You Happy

Often, media headlines highlight academic research in order to make fun of it — so that people can say, “look at how these eggheads spend their time!” or “They needed a study to prove that!?”  My title (above) alludes to such media coverage, but my purpose here is to highlight a new article which argues……

Only an Expert

My favorite song off of Laurie Anderson‘s most recent record (Homeland, 2010) also happens to be the most apt song to describe where America is at this moment in history.  It begins “Now only an expert can deal with the problem / Cause half the problem is seeing the problem” — a sentiment quickly ironized as…

Children’s Books by Adult Authors

The title of this post is deliberately silly.  Children’s books are written (and edited and marketed and agented, etc.) by alleged grown-ups, and so — as Perry Nodelman points out — there is always a “hidden adult” in children’s literature.  This is one of the central paradoxes of a literature defined primarily by its audience….

Going Back to High School — 90 Years Back

What was high school like 90 years ago?  This Newtown High School Handbook provides some sense of what it was like in Newtown, Queens in 1921, when Crockett Johnson (a.k.a. David Leisk) was a student there.  No yearbooks from the Newtown class of 1924 (Johnson’s graduating class) survive, but plenty of things do: The Queens Public…

Crockett Johnson and the Purple Crayon: A Life in Art

This piece appeared in Comic Art in 2004.  As the magazine is now (sadly) defunct, I’m posting the article here.  Until The Purple Crayon and a Hole to Dig: The Lives of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss appears in 2012, this essay is the most thorough account of Johnson’s life available.  Enjoy! Philip Nel, “Crockett Johnson and…