“Nine Kinds of Pie”
My Favorite Books by Crockett Johnson
“So he laid out a simple picnic lunch. There was nothing but pie. But there were all nine kinds of pie that Harold liked best.”— Crockett Johnson, Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955)
With the understanding that any list of favorites is necessarily subjective, I’ve made a list of “Crockett Johnson’s Greatest Hits.” Some of these never “hit” commercially, others did; some may strike you as “great,” and others not. But, since Johnson wrote and illustrated over 30 books and illustrated another 7 on top of that, I thought that an attempt to offer recommendations might help any reader new to his work. The lists are divided into two categories, “Essential” (the books that no home should be without) and “Blue Ribbon” (the best books absent from the “Essential” category)
like a purple crayon and the moon
“And he left his yard, taking his purple crayon and the moon along.”— Harold’s ABC (1963)
These are the essential ones. Just as Harold never goes anywhere without his purple crayon (and the moon), you should not go any further without reading these books. So visit your local library or bookstore! If you’re in a purchasing mood, try both new and used bookstores: as I write this, the Barnaby books (Fantagraphics), The Carrot Seed and the Harold books (all HarperCollins) are in print, but Willie’s Adventures, and The Emperor’s Gifts are not.
- Barnaby (Holt, 1943) and Barnaby and Mr. O’Malley (Holt, 1944) — featuring selected Barnaby narratives redrawn by Johnson — are long out of print, but a compact introduction to his comic strip. Currently in-print are Fantagraphics‘ four- (and soon-to-be five-) volume reprint of Johnson’s original strips, a series which I co-edit. Each volume features a foreword by a notable comics practitioner, an introduction by a comics scholar, a contemporary essay on Barnaby (Dorothy Parker in the first volume), an afterword and notes by me, and lots of bonus art (including photographs, other work by Johnson, and draft material). Available now: Barnaby Vol. 1: 1942-1943 (2013), Barnaby Vol. 2: 1944-1945 (2014), Barnaby Vol. 3: 1946-1947 (2016), Barnaby Vol. 4: 1948-1949 (2020). Forthcoming: Barnaby Vol. 5: 1950-1952 (2023).
- The Carrot Seed (Harper, 1945) by Ruth Krauss and illustrated by Crockett Johnson.
- Willie’s Adventures (W.R. Scott, 1954) by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Crockett Johnson.
- Is This You? (W.R. Scott, 1955) by Ruth Krauss and Crockett Johnson.
- Harold and the Purple Crayon (Harper, 1955). All of the Harold books are great, but I’ve limited myself to three in this particular list. For a compendium of three (plus an illustrated afterword by me), you might try Harold’s Imagination: 3 Adventures with the Purple Crayon (HarperCollins, 2018).
- A Picture for Harold’s Room (Harper, 1960)
- Harold’s ABC (Harper, 1963)
- Magic Beach (Front Street, 2005). Features a foreword by Maurice Sendak and an afterword by me.
the best not included in the “Essential” list
Like the children trying to decide which puppy is the BEST, I find that I want to award blue ribbons to more than just a few of Crockett Johnson’s books. Many of these arguably could be on the “essential” list, but (since I’ve committed myself to ranking these) I had to draw the line somewhere. So, to paraphrase The Blue Ribbon Puppies, the books below are the best — the best books not included on the above list. If you’re looking for these, you’ll want to browse in both new and used bookstores: not all remain in print.
- Who’s Upside Down? (W. R. Scott, 1952; republished by Linnet, 1990)
- How to Make an Earthquake (Harper, 1954) by Ruth Krauss and illustrated by Crockett Johnson
- Harold’s Fairy Tale (Harper, 1956)
- Harold’s Trip to the Sky (Harper, 1957)
- Time for Spring (Harper, 1957)
- The Blue Ribbon Puppies (Harper, 1958)
- Merry Go Round (Harper, 1958)
- Ellen’s Lion (Harper, 1959; republished by Godine, 1984, and by Knopf, 2003). According to Lee Bennett Hopkins, this book and The Lion’s Own Story (1963) were Johnson’s personal favorites.
- The Frowning Prince (Harper, 1959)
- Harold’s Circus (Harper, 1959)
- Will Spring Be Early? or Will Spring Be Late? (Crowell, 1959; republished by Harper, 2016)
- The Emperor’s Gifts (Holt, 1965)
All of Johnson’s text and artwork is © by the Ruth Krauss Foundation. The rest of these pages are © 1998-2022 by Philip Nel.