Crockett Johnson’s Characters: Harold and Ellen

The Harold Series


Apart from Harold and his crayon, there are no other “main” characters in the Harold books — that is, all other characters are somewhat static and entirely purple, the creations of Harold. A little boy of perhaps three or four, Harold is the main character of the series. He travels through adventures drawn with his purple crayon: the world he creates becomes a real, tangible place. In each book except for A Picture for Harold’s Room, his adventures begin in the evening and, in each book except for Harold’s Circus, the story concludes when he arrives safe at home.

Strictly speaking, not a character. But, if Harold has a co-star, this is it. As Barnaby has Mr. O’Malley, so Harold has his purple crayon. But, unlike Mr. O’Malley, the purple crayon is a direct conduit for Harold’s imagination: that is, O’Malley usually acts independently of Barnaby, but the crayon never (or rarely) leaves Harold’s hand.

his purple crayon

The Ellen Series


An imaginative preschooler whose best friend and confidant is her stuffed lion. She invents many an adventure for herself and her lion, who is often a reluctant participant. The two become astronauts (on her tricycle), artists, mountain climbers, and create many fond memories together.

Ellen’s lion is the rational member of the duo. When Ellen thinks that her lion is sad, he reminds her that he is but “a stuffed animal.” Often his practical approach clashes with Ellen’s fanciful one, but he does at times willingly play along with her games. Although his status as stuffed animal is never in question, his ability to think independently varies: the lion appears both to be animated only by Ellen’s imagination and to act independently of Ellen.

her lion

All of Johnson’s text and artwork is © by the Ruth Krauss Foundation. The rest of these pages are © 1998-2022 by Philip Nel.