Ruth Krauss (1901 – 1993). She was a woman who understood children. You can tell from her books. She knew how to truly be imaginative in her writing, to be limitless, to be playful.
But her words. Her stories. Come see!
Open House for Butterflies (1960), pictures by Maurice Sendak.
Krauss’s work is often defined by being non-linear and non-story like and this is a great example. It’s a text that flows Edward Lear-like and is totally free from convention. And yet there is substance along with charm. It acts, I think, the way a child acts, going from this to that without apology, making observations, sometimes sweet and sometimes silly. Oh and it’s subversive too, showing us how children know more than we think.
A Hole is to Dig (1952), pictures by Maurice Sendak.
Another collaboration with Sendak and my very favorite book of Krauss’s (and one of my favorites ever), it’s like the prequel to Open House. It’s a magical perspective on the world.
Ursula Nordstrom wrote in 1964:
“Yes, I think A Hole Is to Dig was something new. It came from Ruth Krauss’ listening to children, getting ideas from them, polishing some of the thoughts, exploring additional “definitions” of her own. It really grew of out children and what is important to them. (A brother is to help you.) Some of the definitions seem quite serious to children but those aren’t the ones the adults smile over and consider “cute.” For instance, “Buttons are to keep people warm.” Adults think oh isn’t that darling, but it makes perfectly good sense to children. “A tablespoon is to eat a table with” seems a pretty dumb joke to adults, but it knows most children out, they think it is so witty. A Hole Is to Dig was the first of all the Something Is Something books, and has been mushily imitated ever since it was published…”
“Dogs are to kiss people.”
“Hands are to hold.”
“A Hole is to dig.”
“Toes are to dance on.”
“Eyebrows are to go over your eyes.”
“A hole is to look through.”
The Backward Day (1950), pictures by Marc Simont.
A boy decides it’s backward day and dresses accordingly, underwear on the outside of his pants. He walks backwards, he says “Goodnight” instead of “Goodmorning.” One thing I love is how his parents play along with it and engage the idea instead of mandating something different, something normal. Krauss is nudging us to accept kids’ invitations to playfulness.
The Happy Day (1949), pictures by Marc Simont.
This is a book about the mice and snails and bears all waking up from winter. They sniff and smell and run and then, on the last page, they all get a wonderful surprise. That’s it! And it’s that good.
I’ll Be You and You Be Me (1954), pictures by Maurice Sendak.
This is a compilation of poems and bits of text, all of which have to do with friendship. A girl who loves a stuffed elephants. Siblings. A tree and bugs. All kinds of camaraderie.
The Carrot Seed (1945), pictures by Crocket Johnson.
This is a classic for a reason. It was ahead of its time and still so timely. A perfect book for anyone who needs to persist, especially despite naysayers. It also shows Krauss’s honesty about the world yet demonstrates a belief in possibility.
To Ruth Krauss and her imagination! Do you have favorite of hers, one that’s listed here or not?
You may also enjoy my post on Mary Blair’s picture book life!