Tag Archives: the carrot seed

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!







15 lessons on creativity from picture books

As if we needed one more reason to read picture books, there is one. When you look at them through a certain lens, they give you creative advice and inspiration. It’s true!

I got the idea for this post from the first book on the list, but as I looked further, there were many great ones to include.

Come see!



The Most Magnificent Thing is for anyone who’s been frustrated by a project and gotten totally fed up or even given up. (I can raise my hand here.) The girl in the book feels that way and then she takes a walk with her dog. When she returns to her project, she sees it anew. She makes it magnificent. (Side note: Walks are the best places for ideas, don’t you think? But any break will do.)



Things don’t work out so well when A Funny Little Bird tries to be something she’s not. We funny little birds need to all embrace our own quirks for what they are—the things that make us unique.



DJ Kool Herc didn’t start out with that name, but he did start out loving music and records and parties. He pursued his obsession and made hip hop history. (Side note: the author’s note in When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop will put a tear in your eye.)



When Henri Matisse could no longer paint, he didn’t stop making art. He reinvented his. Henri’s Scissors shows how limitations can lead to invention.



I have a special place in my heart for Leo the Late Bloomer as I’m a bit of a late bloomer myself. His mother is truly wise. She doesn’t worry about how everyone else is farther along than Leo. Leo will have his time. The right time for him.



White Is for Blueberry doesn’t make sense at first, right? Shouldn’t it be blue? Or purple? But it does make sense if it’s referring to “when the berry is still too young to pick.” I love how this book challenges our expectations for what’s supposed to be. It’s full of surprises.



Pablo Neruda, Poet of the People took inspiration from nature, from his home in Chile, from small things like “buttons and feathers and shoes and hats…velvet cloth and the color of the sea.”


meandmommaandbigjohnIn Me and Momma and Big John a son learns what his mother does for work, the pride she takes in it, and the way one stone can be part of something truly great.



herman-and-rosieOh Herman. Oh Rosie. A crocodile and deer share a passion for jazz in a big city that keeps them apart until they meet because of music and become Herman and Rosie, duo.




In which a brother and sister take a walk that is not just A Few Blocks, but an adventure, a quest, and a lot of fun.



A girl who finds herself without a companion at home one day goes on a Journey by drawing a red door on one wall of her room. By going through the door, she goes on a journey born of her own ingenuity. She’s no longer alone.



If You Want to See A Whale you need time and you need not be distracted by sweet smelling flowers and pirates and caterpillars. Same goes if you want to pursue a creative project, yes?



No one believes the boy in The Carrot Seed. But he believes. He keeps believing and he’s right to!




A boy and girl plant some seeds and one of them grows into something absolutely wildly magical in Wonder Bear. It only takes one seed for something wonderful to sprout. You could even plant one today. I’ll cheer you on.


THE-ROOM-OF-WONDERS-SERGIO-RUZZIERPius Pelosi has a giant collection that all began with a pebble. His gut led him to that pebble and his passion. So when he listens to others and throws out the pebble, nothing is right in his Room of Wonders.


To picture books and creativity in any form! 


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!