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A Title Is to Read

Harold, the Purple Crayon, and Barnes & Noble

In honor of what would have been Crockett Johnson‘s 105th birthday, I can exclusively reveal both the title of the book and the name of the winner of my Invent Title for My Book, win a Signed Copy of the Book contest.  Yesterday (Wednesday), my editor emailed the title that he and his colleagues liked best:

Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature

So… that’ll be the title.  How did we arrive at this title?  Back in late August, Walter (my editor) wrote to me: “I talked to my colleagues about it, and most of them find the main title problematic. It’s lengthy and isn’t evocative to anyone who isn’t already familiar with Johnson or Krauss, and so doesn’t draw the lay reader into the text. What other possibilities are there?” I posed the question to all of you, and thanks to your generous suggestions, we had a lot to choose from.

Since he wanted something that might be evocative to someone not already familiar with Johnson and Krauss, I was most struck by these suggestions, which came from my colleague Dan Hoyt, via email:

The Lives of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How One Couple Found Lefty Love, Dodged the FBI, and Re-Invented Children’s literature

The Lives of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How One Couple Gave Birth to Harold, A Hole to Dig, a New Strain of Children’s Literature, and even a Purple Crayon

I liked the narrative impulse — each title tells a story that might pique your curiosity even if you’re not already familiar with the work of Johnson or Krauss.  So, inspired by those suggestions, I sent Walter the following (with the top one as my top choice):

Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Changed the Future of Children’s Literature.

Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Reinvented the Modern Picture Book.

Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Re-imagined Children’s Literature.

Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature.

As you can see, he and his colleagues chose the final one above.  As you might also notice, these are all rather long — and he was worried about length.  So, I also picked a few “runners-up.”

The first one comes from cartoonist Paul Karasik (via the blog):

…And The Purple Crayon: Crockett Johnson, Ruth Krauss, and the Reinvention of the Modern Picture Book

You’ll note that I borrowed “the Modern Picture Book” for one of the rejected titles above.  I liked this one.  I liked the suggestiveness of the ellipses.  Also, I liked the fact that beginning a title with ellipses is rather unusual.  Off the top of my head, I can think only of …And Ladies of the Club (though I’m sure there are others).

The second runner-up comes from Dean Jacoby (via Facebook):

Two Crayons, One Art: The Children’s Literature and Marriage of Crockett and Krauss

I liked what comes before the colon, but I’d have changed what comes after the colon.  Maybe borrow from Karasik‘s suggestion for the post-colon part.  For the record, a version of this was also nearly the winner.  Before his colleagues persuaded him to go for what became the winning title, Walter was leaning towards “Two Crayons, One Art: Crockett Johnson, Ruth Krauss, and the Reinvention of Children’s Literature” or “Two Crayons, One Art: A Biography of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss.”

Since his suggestion came closet to the title that was ultimately chosen, our contest winner is Dan Hoyt.  Congratulations, Dan!  A profound THANK YOU to everyone who participated.  I really enjoyed reading your suggestions.  You helped me arrive at a solution to a problem that has remain unsolved for a decade — what to call the book?!?

I’ll conclude with a hearty happy birthday to Crockett Johnson!  This time next year, we can celebrate by reading his and Ruth Krauss’s biography… because it’ll be out!

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Invent Title for My Book, Win Signed Copy of the Book

Crockett Johnson, "How to write a book," illus. from Ruth Krauss's How to Make an EarthquakeThe title is currently The Purple Crayon and a Hole to Dig: The Lives of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss.  Today, my editor writes that he and his colleagues “find the main title problematic. It’s lengthy and isn’t evocative to anyone who isn’t already familiar with Johnson or Krauss, and so doesn’t draw the lay reader into the text. What other possibilities are there?”

He has a point: a more pithy, catchy title might help draw people to the book.  My only problem is I don’t have any other good ideas.  So, let me appeal to you, who have not been writing this book for the last dozen years.  Perhaps you can offer a fresh perspective?

Here’s the deal.  If you come up with the best title (or if you come closest to what the press and I decide is the best title), I will thank you by name in the book’s Acknowledgements and send you a signed copy of the book — expected out in late summer/early fall of 2012.  Post your idea for the title in the comments below, though be aware that the comment may not appear immediately (it’s a moderated blog, and I’m the sole moderator!).  Or, if you prefer, you may write me directly.  I will post the winning title on the blog.  If the winner grants me permission to do so, I will also post his/her name on the blog, by way of congratulations.

To help you on your way to a winning title, here are some of my less-winning ones, with an explanation of what I think works and does not work about each.

The Purple Crayon and a Hole to Dig: The Lives of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss.

  • What works. The authors’ best-known books appear in the title: Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon and Krauss’s A Hole Is to Dig.  People who know these books may be interested to pick up a biography about the books’ creators.
  • What doesn’t work.  As my editor notes, the title is cumbersome and doesn’t appeal to the lay reader.  I worry about removing what Johnson and Krauss are best known for, but… I take his point.  If we can come up with something better, I’m all for it.

Complimentary Opposites: The Lives of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss

  • What works.  The phrase describes Johnson and Krauss’s relationship.  They were complimentary opposites, and that’s why the relationship worked.  Where he tended to be calm, she was more anxious.  He was nearly six feet tall, a soft-spoken man with a wry sense of humor.  She was five feet, four inches tall, exuberant, and outspoken.  And so on.
  • What doesn’t work.  “Complimentary Opposites” has no zazz.  It’s not catchy.  It doesn’t make you want to pick up the book.  Sure, it’s accurate.  But it’s also a bit of a snoozer.

Art for Life’s Sake: The Lives of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss.

  • What works.  It’s general, and it speaks to something about each of them: Johnson’s politically motivated work, Krauss’s work that draws from the lives of real children, works by both of them that celebrate children’s imaginations.  It’s suggestive in productive ways.  Actually, I think that one possible route to a successful title may well be taking a common phrase (“art for art’s sake,” in this case) and turning it to make it feel both fresh and applicable to Johnson and Krauss.
  • What doesn’t work.  It’s a little glib, and I’m not sure about its evocation of “art for art’s sake,” a phrase which does not quite match either of them.  I mean, it does in some ways: Krauss definitely had a need to pursue her own muse, and one could read Johnson’s Harold books as an affirmation of art for its own sake, for the sheer joy of creation.  But they were both also interested in the social dimensions of art.  So… that’s why I’m not sure.

Books Are to Write: The Lives of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss

  • What works.  The title echoes Krauss’s A Hole Is to Dig, which is nice.  And it’s fairly open-ended, suggesting something about their creative lives (writing books).
  • What doesn’t work.  The title doesn’t echo anything about Johnson.  And that’s a recurring problem I’ve had — I’ll come up with something that works well for one, but fails for the other.  And, since the book is a double biography, the title should speak to both Johnson and Krauss.  Indeed, I’ve considered using A Double Biography of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss as the subtitle, but decided that it’s too much.  Lives of works better.

Fantastic Companions: The Lives of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss.

  • What works.  In addition to being the title of a 1955 essay by Johnson, “Fantastic Companions” points to their relationship, and — in the word “Fantastic” — hints at fantasy.
  • What doesn’t work.  No one knows this essay by Johnson; the allusion will be lost on all except the Johnson fanatic.  And, of course, even if they did, it would only be referring to something by him… and nothing by her.

A Very Special House: The Lives of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss.

  • What works.  Title includes one of Krauss’s books, and (in so doing) evokes home — specifically, the house they lived in, the place they created many of their works.
  • What doesn’t work.  Title refers only to her, and not to him.  Apart from children’s book people, I don’t think A Very Special House will ring a bell.  Also, the book isn’t about their house!  For a title, this is weak.

There are many other failed titles.  I thought about trying to define them by their careers — Artist & Poet, perhaps?  But he was a cartoonist, creator of children’s books, and painter; she was a writer for children, poet, and playwright.  So, no.  Power in a Union reflects both their affiliation with progressive causes (especially Johnson’s) and to the union that is their marriage, but it makes them sound like labor organizers.  Again, no.

Well, that’s a partial list of my failures.  Think you can do better?  I’d love to hear your ideas.

Though I can’t promise that they’ll be interesting, here are other posts concerning what is currently called The Purple Crayon and a Hole to Dig: The Lives of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss:

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