Tag Archives: classic children’s books

ruth krauss’s picture book life


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.


Krauss wrote over 30 books for kids; she collaborated with her husband, Crocket Johnson; her books were illustrated by the legendary Maurice Sendak; she worked with great editor, Ursula Nordstrom.


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? 



002.480x480-75You may also enjoy my post on Mary Blair’s picture book life!







imogene’s antlers + antler accessories

9780517562420Imogene’s Antlers  by David Small (first published in 1985).


Famous Imogene who wakes up with antlers on her head one morning!


Interestingly, Imogene’s name might remind a reader of imagination. But I like to think this story is true (fiction-true anyway).






Imogene doesn’t seem disturbed to have a strange new attribute. It’s her fussy family who objects. Who wants to fix her transformation. Who wants cover it up. (Who faints a few times.)








When I asked David Small via email how he got the idea for the book, he said:


“Imogene, C’est Moi …  

a strange kid born into a family

who wanted no truck with his strangeness.”

—David Small


Isn’t he the best? I for one relate to that. Lots of kids, surely they do. All kinds of kids.





And you know who in Imogene’s world isn’t flabbergasted by Imogene’s antlers? Mrs. Perkins and Lucy. They go with the flow and find a few good uses for those new accessories.







I love this spread, with the candles on Imogene’s antlers. Her brother, too, seems to be pretty cool about the whole antlers thing. NBD, he might say today.



And that perfect reveal at the end of the book. Imogene wakes up the next day without antlers, but, um, feathers on her rump! The preceding page gives a subtle, clever hint.

(And have I mentioned how hilarious this book is? Or the animal references throughout? Just on the spread above there’s a koala, bunny, frog, giraffe. Not to mention the tabby cat and happy hound who grace so many pages.)

The reader knows Imogene’s family’s not going to welcome a peacock-girl into the family. But resilient, different, charming Imogene—she’ll be just fine.

For two picture books that follow in Imogene’s footsteps, check out A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon and For Just One Day by Laura Leuck, illustrated by Marc Boutavant.




Alright. Antlers—let’s do this! Or how to be a deer for a day and wear your difference right there on your head.

This video!!

Imogene’s Antlers from The Barkers on Vimeo.



This amazing photo project, “The Peculiar Case of Avery’s Antlers” by Lauren Athalia.



Deer Girl Doll by Gideon and Brisby.


4 DIY Reindeer Antler Horns Headband Christmas craft



DIY Antler Headband from Pink Stripey Socks



Knit deer antler cap from Tiny Owl Knits Patterns.



This antlered pair.


To antlers, to difference, to Imogene!


5 favorite picture books from the 40s & 50s

The very best picture books stand the test of good old time. They hold memories. They tell truths that last.

My first in a series of PICTURE BOOKS BY THE DECADE, here are my favorites from the 40s & 50s:




Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson (1955).

I love the metanarrative of this book and how that tradition still inspires picture books today. And that it’s about Harold’s imagination and ingenuity, but also about bedtime. Where his mind takes him and then the comfort of coming home. It’s a classic for a reason.





A Hole is to Dig by Ruth Krauss, pictures by Maurice Sendak (1952).

Ruth Krauss so knows children. This is a compilation of inventive definitions that are far from dictionary.  Delightful, full of play, and let’s face it, deep!  They’ve been called funny but I find them incredibly heartfelt:
“Hands are to hold.”
“The ground is to make a garden.”
“The sun is to tell you when it’s every day.”

Browse the book here.






The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss, pictures by Crockett Johnson (1945).

Ruth Krauss again. Such a good, simple story ahead of its time: A boy believes his carrot seed will grow when no one else does. To be read when facing a challenge.





The Plant Sitter by Gene Zion, pictures by Margaret Bloy Graham (1959).

While no one would be fooled into thinking this is a current book, it’s still a great read. I admire this industrious little kid who cares for vacationers’ plants, filling up the house with them. His parents’ reactions are hilarious and his eventual winning over everyone to greenery is delightful.




Marshmallow by Clare Turlay Newberry (1942).

For me this one is all about the illustrations. Simply, fluffily exquisite.


Please do add your favorite picture books published in the 40s and 50s to the comments!