I have very early memories of both reading, and watching, Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson. The concept that a story can quite literally pour out of the end of a child’s drawing tool is fascinating to me – but I’m even more drawn to the “errors” in Harold’s drawing that cause the story to stop in its tracks and abruptly change courses. Harold draws a dragon that turns out to be scarier than he first intends. His shaking hand that holds the crayon creates waves across the page and an ocean suddenly appears.
To me, the Harold stories are magical. Like the book I talked about last week – Along a Long Road – I love books that visually link each page. I think following this thread across the page and onto the next one is a vital pre-reading tool for children, and I can see that books that do this really draw both of my children in. We have a collection of Harold stories – four in total – in one book, and F pulls that book off the shelf night after night, turns the page to the Table of Contents, and chooses her story for the night. I don’t know that we have a favorite of the four, but I personally love the moment that Harold – after searching and searching for his bedroom window so that he can return home to his own room and his own bed – remembers the way that the moon looks from that very window, and uses his crayon to draw his window around the moon, thus putting himself right back where he feels most safe and comfortable. It holds the same appeal for me that Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are does. There is a mystery and a genuine curiosity for children about what goes on once they are tucked away into bed. Venturing out a bit into the darkness with Harold – or Max – is thrilling, but the real power lies in their ability to return to the very place that they love best. How very empowering.
Harold and the Purple Crayon is a terrific book for children of all ages. It really took hold with F at about two and a half, and E still picks up the collection and reads all four at once.
As mentioned above, this book pairs well with Where the Wild Things Are – and both are lovely ways to dabble in stories that push the boundaries slightly on what is safe and comfortable about the night before everyone ultimately ends up warm and dry and tucked into bed. They remind adults that although they cannot always determine and predict the actions of the day, what a gift it is to give a child the security and the comfort of a place to return home to.
What’s your favorite thing Harold draws? (One of my top picks would be the picnic spread of his favorite pies – all nine of them.)
Find these titles at your favorite local independent bookstore. Happy reading!
I linked (above and here) to the Fresh Air interview with Maurice Sendak this past May. It is truly one of the most powerful interviews I’ve ever had the privilege to listen to.