Thursday, July 22, 2010

Happy Birthday Ruth Krauss - July 25

Happy Birthday Ruth Krauss - (July 25, 1901 - July 10, 1993)

Ruth Krauss was a mentor to Maurice Sendak who once described her as one of the "grand, inspired, towering women who invented the American children's book from scratch." She is known best for her books The Carrot Seed and A Hole Is to Dig.  Her books A Very Special House and The Happy Day were recognized with Caldecott Honor.

In the obituary from the NY Times it read, "At a time when children's books tended to be didactic, with lots of text, Ms. Krauss pioneered the use of minimal text, concentrating on precise language and working closely with an illustrator."  She worked with many great illustrators including:
    - her husband, Crockett Johnson (David Johnson Leisk), author of Harold and the Purple Crayon
    - her apprentice, Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are
    - Marc Simont, illustrator of Nate the Great by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat
    - Mary Blair, Walt Disney illustrator for Cinderella, Peter Pan, and Alice in Wonderland.

Ruth Krauss married David Johnson Leisk (Crockett Johnson) in 1941.  He illustrated four of her books; The Carrot Seed (1945), How to Make an Earthquake (1954), Is This You? (1955), and The Happy Egg (1967).  The Carrot Seed was described by Maurice Sendak as the "perfect picture book." Krauss tells a story about a little boy who never gives up hope that his seed will grow into a carrot even though his family doubts his success.  The illustrations are simple and there are only around 100 words, but this book has been loved by children and adults for 65 years.  It is one of our family favorites.

A Hole is to Dig published in 1952 is a cornerstone book of children's literature even though it is also a book of few words.  It was the first book that Ruth Krauss worked on with Maurice Sendak. In the book, Ruth Krauss writes definitions for things from a child's perspective such as, A lap is so you don't get crumbs on the floor and A tablespoon is to eat a table with. The quick and humorous definitions with Sendak's illustrations make a perfect pair. It was this book that brought attention to Sendak was in his early 20s, and before working on this book he was virtually unknown and often rejected by editors.  It was also a book that solidified a relationship between Krauss, Johnson, and Sendak that was built on mentorship and friendship.

Patrick Rodgers, curator of the For Ruthie exhibition at the Rosenbach Museum stated, "Krauss taught Sendak her craft, in a way, and his most famous characters like Max, Pierre, or Rosie owe something to the 'Krauss Kids' he created during those early collaborations with Ruth. In their correspondence and working materials, you can sense a playfulness and camaraderie that was at the heart of how they approached children's books."  Maurice Sendak illustrated a total of nine books for Ruth Krauss.  If you have further interest in the Krauss-Sendak duo listen to the interview from NPR listed in the links below.

I ran across the blog, Curious Pages: Recommended Inappropriate Books for Kids, which is written by the popular illustrator Lane Smith.   He provides some very funny commentary on a few books by Ruth Krauss; The Carrot Seed, How to Make an EarthquakeThis Thumbprint, and A Moon or a Button. I was intrigued by the book This Thumbprint.  It took me back to elementary school when I remember doing thumbprint art for the first time.  I was unable to find This Thumbprint at the library and it is out of print. However, I was able to show my children illustrations, which are quite interesting, from the book through the Curious Pages blog article.  My daughter loved this art project because she was able to get her hands covered with ink! Here's video to demonstrating thumbprint art that may be useful when completing a project with your family.



Note:  Look for a Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss biography from Philip Nel in 2012.

Click Here for this week's Library Checklist.

Links:

1. Lesson Plans for The Carrot Seed - One, Two
2. Printable images for The Carrot Seed
5. Interview with Maurice Sendak discussing experiences with Ruth Krauss - NPR
7. More on The Carrot Seed from Philip Nel
8. Stopping Off Place Blog Post about Ruth Krauss
9. Download MP3 of Carrot Seed - KiddieRecords

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