Archive for Ruth Krauss

It’s here, in hardcover and paperback.

Greetings, faithful readers. I am pleased to report that Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature — a book that was twelve years in the making — now exists in both hardcover and paperback.  I received my author copies today, which means that it should be available for shipping from warehouses in the next few weeks (the official publication date is September 1st).

Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children's Literature (hardcover). Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children's Literature (paperback).
The author poses with the hardcover. The author poses with the softcover.

It’s already available on the Kindle, Nook and SONY Reader, but I find the ebook’s absence of book design a little disappointing.  So, I recommend purchasing the paperback. First, it’s cheaper.  Second, only the paperback has the full wraparound cover (designed by Chris Ware).  The Kindle version supplies only the front cover.1 On the hardcover, the artwork wraps around the spine and onto the back cover, but, since there is no dust jacket, the cover ends at the vertical edges of both back and front covers.  The paperback also has no dust jacket, but does have folded flaps that mimic a dust jacket  — they fold in along the vertical edges, tucking in between front cover and first page, and between last page and back cover.  Thus, the paperback allows you to view the full wrap-around cover.

Chris Ware's cover for Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children's Literature

The only other ways to see the full cover are on this blog or in the poster versions.  The generous Mr. Ware has designed a version of the cover — sans blurbs, UPC symbol, etc. — that is currently being made into posters.  I plan to sell them at book events. (I’m selling them rather than giving them away because I’ve underwritten the cost of this endeavor, and I’d like to make back my investment.)

Anyway.  My point is that the book is now officially real.  For me, a book is not a book until I hold it in my hands.  It doesn’t matter that I’ve signed the contract, delivered the manuscript, edited the manuscript (many times in this case), obtained rights to reprint the images (88 for this one), checked the page proofs, or seen the image for the jacket.  The book is only real for me at the moment I actually see a physical copy for the first time.  For this book, that moment was late this afternoon.

My biography of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss is now real.


1.  I haven’t seen the Nook or SONY Reader versions. I assume they look much as the Kindle version does, but cannot verify that assumption.

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Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: Chris Ware’s cover

Front cover by Chris Ware for: Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children's Literature (forthcoming from UP Mississippi, Sept. 2012)

Graphic genius Chris Ware designed the cover for my Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature (due this September from the University Press of Mississippi). The front cover is above.  The full, wrap-around cover is below.  Click on it for a larger image.  Trust me: you’ll really want to see all of the detail.  It’s beautiful.  It’s perfect.  I’ve never been happier about one of my book covers.  And for those keeping count, there are six previous books (two co-edited), all of which have striking covers.  The other designers were no slouches.

But Chris Ware is a genius. And no, I am not overusing that word.  But, yes, perhaps we should add a few more words to describe the cover itself. Clever. Detailed. Vivid. Art.

Full, wrap-around cover by Chris Ware for: Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children's Literature (forthcoming from UP Mississippi, Sept. 2012)

He’s done the cover in the style of Crockett Johnson.  In the case of the girl dancing above Krauss’s typewriter, it’s Mary Blair filtered through a Crockett Johnson aesthetic; for the boy sliding own her back, it’s Maurice Sendak filtered through Johnson. (The girl is from Krauss‘s I Can Fly, illustrated by Blair; the boy is from her A Hole is to Dig, illustrated by Sendak.)  Finally, Ware transforms all of these styles into something uniquely his own.

Fans of Johnson and Krauss: Are you getting all of the references here?  Would you like some help?  I could fully annotate this cover, but I wonder if that would detract from the pleasure of exploring it yourself.  The academic in me wants to proceed with the annotations, but the art lover wants to stay silent, so that your eyes can linger on Ware’s art, looking slowly, experiencing it on its own terms.  And… the art lover wins.  (No annotations.)  Enjoy!

And: Thank you, Chris Ware!

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The Most Wild Thing of All: Maurice Sendak, 1928-2012

Maurice Sendak, 2011

But the wild things cried, “Oh, please don’t go—

We’ll eat you up—we love you so!”

And Max said, “No!”

—Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are (1963)

In June 2001, I went to hear Maurice Sendak speak at Yale University. A couple of years earlier, I’d started working on a biography of Crockett Johnson, and I knew they were close. I had written him to see if he would be willing to chat, but, the previous April, he had declined via a letter from his assistant: “Mr. Sendak does not have any useful recollection relating to Ruth and Dave…. He hopes your research yields more valuable results and best wishes!” So, I thought: I need to try again. I’ll go, I’ll ask him during the Q+A period. When that time came, I was very nervous. He’d already turned me down once. What if he gets angry at me for pestering him? But… I plucked up my courage, and asked.

He looked me in the eyes, and after the briefest pause said Yes. I should talk to him after the Q+A. I did. He wrote his home number down in my notebook, and told me to call.  I did.

I remain astonished at his extraordinary generosity toward me, who (at that time) had published a handful of articles and no books… and yet was going to write a biography. Why even give someone like me the time of day?

This is why. Ruth Krauss and Crockett Johnson — along with their mutual editor, Harper & Brothers’ Ursula Nordstrom — were the most important people in shaping his early career. In the early 1950s, he began visiting their Rowayton Connecticut home on the weekends, while working on Krauss’s books. They were his “weekend parents” who helped shape him into the great artist he would become. He stayed with them many times during the ’50s, illustrating eight of Krauss’s books, starting with the groundbreaking A Hole Is to Dig (1952).

So, he was willing to help me. I phoned, we chatted, and then set up a time for a longer conversation later that evening.  At 9pm on June 22nd, I phoned him.  We talked for the next two hours.  The phone call began like this:

Philip Nel: Let’s hope the tape works.

Maurice Sendak: Oh, you’re taping it?

PN: Yes, if that’s alright with you.

MS: Yes, that’s fine.  You’re going to hear an odd sound now and then which is my putting a colored pencil into my sharpener ’cause I’m going to try and draw as we speak.

PN: OK.

MS: I have to finish a page a day, a layout a day, for the book I’m doing.

PN: What are you doing?

MS: Well, it’s a book based on an opera, an opera that I’m going to produce.  I have a little children’s theatre which I’m getting rid of, but this is our last thing to do.  It’s an opera that was performed in a concentration camp in Prague, there’s a very famous concentration camp called Theresienstadt.  It was actually Emperor Tieresias’ army encampment right outside the city.  During the war, it became a camp, and it was known as Hitler’s favorite camp.  There was a movie made to impress Red Cross and diplomats coming that all that they were hearing about dead Jews, dead gypsies, dead gays was all a lie.  And a film was made showing volleyball and chess and children, part of a children’s opera, some brief moments.  And the true fact is that there was an opera composed in the camp.  A young composer named Hans Krasa and his librettist wrote an opera for the children in the camp.  And the opera is called Brundibar, and it’s one of the only things we have of Mr. Krasa except for a trio and some songs because he was incinerated when he was about 35 along with the librettist and all the children who performed the opera.

PN: Wow.

MS: We now have the rights to the opera — took us a long time to get it — and Tony Kushner, the playwright

PN: Yeah, Angels in America.

MS: Yeah.  Is one of my very most wonderful friends.  I begged him to take the job of translation because the original English translation is horrible.  The Czech is beautiful, but it’s got to be sung in English, so we translated it, and we got people interested in doing it, staging it.  It has been done, but in schools, in community centers.  It’s never had a real production.  And so in order to raise the money for it, we agreed we would do a picture book.  So, Tony extrapolated from the libretto into a very gorgeous complex story — the first time he’s ever done anything like this.  He’s amazing.  He just adapted it, without any fuss or feathers.  Gorgeous, gorgeous funny language.  And I’m doing the picture book because we need the money for the stage production, and Hyperion will pay for a good part of the stage production and the trade is they get the picture book.  And I was very sick for a year and a quarter, and of course I’m terribly late.  So, I’m trying very hard to catch up.

PN: Wow.

MS: And, it’s beautiful, beautiful work — a perfect way for me to wind up, actually.  So that is it.

PN: Wow.  I’ll be fascinated to see that — the book — when it comes out.

MS: Yeah, the book is evolving because Tony keeps rewriting and I keep rethinking, and we swore we would not make it too dark.  It would be the sweet, little Czech peasant opera.

PN: Well, good luck.

MS: It’s hopeless already.  I have Hitler in it, I have Eva Braun in it, I mean I’m just uncontrollable.

PN: It would be difficult to avoid the darkness.

MS: Impossible.  But, really, seriously must to an extent in order to not obscure what these people really set out to do, which was to write a charming piece to amuse the children.  It’s just that history beclouds it so much.  It is difficult to do.  It is difficult.  But it’s also great fun.  I’m having a wonderful time.

PN: I’m fascinated.  I’ll be interested when it comes out to show it to my class.

He asked about my class.  I had just begun teaching Literature for Children at Kansas State University.  “I always wonder how you teach children’s literature,” he said.  I offered to send him a syllabus.

MS: To me, it’s really a great mystery.

PN: Well, I’m new to teaching it.  I’ve taught it only for a year.  So, I’m pretty close to that sense of mystery.

MS: Well, once the mystery settles deep on you, then you’ll know how complex this thing is.  It’s always been considered low man on the totem pole, one page in the New York Times, and it’s all treated like Peter-Pan-ville.

PN: Right.

MS: It’s very tiresome, and it used to irritate me profoundly when I was young and now I just can’t afford the energy that goes to being irritated.

After a little more conversation, he started to tell me about Ursula.  And Ruth.  And Dave. (David was Crockett Johnson’s real first name, and his friends called him “Dave.”)  Maurice was very open, direct, and shared an enormous amount of deeply personal memories with me — tears in his eyes, as he described his visit to Ruth just before she died. I felt like his therapist, mostly listening, asking the occasional question. By the end of the conversation, I felt as if during the course of those two hours we had become old friends. He invited me to visit him in Ridgefield. I accepted.

(I never did manage to get out there, which is something I now very much regret, of course.)

Maurice Sendak became the biography’s third central character.  Dave and Ruth are the two co-stars, but Maurice gets third billing — or would, if the book were a film.  Beyond the decade of the 1950s, when he was collaborating with Ruth and staying with them some weekends, he visited in 1963 when he got stuck working on Where the Wild Things Are.  What should he call the three wordless two-page spreads in which Max and the wild things cavort in the forest?  Dave suggested “rumpus.”  So, just before the wordless pages start, Sendak has Max say, “Let the wild rumpus start!”  Dave and Ruth were so important to Where the Wild Things Are that Sendak has said, “I feel as though Max was born in Rowayton, and that he was the love child of me, Ruth, and Dave.”

Maurice and I collaborated on getting Crockett Johnson’s Magic Beach published in 2005, with an afterword by me and a foreword by him. We kept in touch. Generally, I’d write him a letter, and then a few days later, he’d phone me back. It was always astonishing to pick up the phone and hear Maurice’s voice on the other end. Or to find his voice on your answering machine. I don’t think I ever quite got over the fact that Holy cow, I’m talking with Maurice Sendak.  That, truly, was “the most wild thing of all!”

In the summer of 2008, I sent both him and Nina Stagakis (who knew Johnson and Krauss very well) an early draft of the manuscript up until the mid-1950s. How was I doing? Anything I might improve? Anything missing? As he recuperated from triple bypass surgery, he read what had become a double biography of both Johnson and Krauss.  On September 10th 2008, he left a message on my office phone.  He said he liked it, it was good work, but he had a few questions. Call him back. I did. He was hesitant to criticize, but I wanted to know. So, he offered his critique: “For me, it was me and Ruth.  And, for you, it was you and Dave.”  Ah, I said, so I need to have more Ruth in there.  He said, well, it’s your manuscript and you can do what you like.  I said, no, I want there to be a balance between the two.  He said, it’s “like a missing color from a palette.”

So, after our phone call, I started going back through the manuscript, and creating a map for each chapter that included a one-line summary of each paragraph which I then labeled either “CJ,” “RK” or “CJ-RK.”  I made the same map for all subsequent chapters, too.  This allowed me to see where the book was unbalanced, and to create a balance, trimming “CJ” sections, expanding “RK” sections.

Maurice was a little out of sorts that September night. In addition to being in recovery, he was also in mourning — his partner of 50 years, Dr. Eugene Glynn, had died the year before. And, at the start of our conversation, he alluded to an article about him in that day’s New York Times, which he described as “a very odd interview that’s very frank.” So, he said, “I’m telling you because I may sound odd.” Wondering what he was talking about, I looked it up (on-line) as we spoke. That’s the article where he at last talks openly about his sexuality. The interviewer asks whether there were anything he had never been asked, and Maurice answers, “Well, that I’m gay.” So, I think he may have feeling a little more vulnerable than usual that evening. (I expect that, if I had just told the New York Times a secret I’d been keeping for 80 years, I’d feel vulnerable, too.)

That was the last time we spoke.

He continued to be supportive of the biography, granting permission to use artwork, and sending me a scan of a photo of him in his 20s — I wanted an image of how he looked at the time he met Ruth and Dave. I believe my biography of Johnson and Krauss will mark the photo’s first publication, though I’m not sure.  But this was all done through his assistant, Jennifer.

My sense of his final years was that he was devoting the life he had left to his work and to mentoring other artists. So, though he no longer returned my occasional letters by phoning me, I figured: well, if I were in my 80s, I would also claim as much of my time for myself as I could! And: He’s been so very generous to me. I can’t complain. I could worry about him, though. I did worry about him.  Whenever he talked to the press, he sounded sad. And he’d sounded sad to me, when last we spoke.

I did write him, and thank him for all he’d done. I was planning to write him again, in a few months’ time, sending him a signed copy of the bio. and another thank-you. (Sigh….) Well, at least he got to see page proofs. The publisher sent him those a few months back.

When I heard the news this morning, “No!” was my first reaction. Yes, I knew he was 83, and he’s never been in the best of health. (He was sickly as a child, and had his first heart attack just before he turned 39.) Still, I assumed he’d always be there. I assumed I’d get the chance to write to him again.

But it was time for him to board Max’s boat and sail away.

Farewell, Maurice.  And thank you.

More on Maurice Sendak (last updated 14 July 2012, 10:15 pm Central Time):

More on Sendak from Nine Kinds of Pie (this blog):

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Potter in Pittsburgh, Johnson & Krauss in Normal

I’ve managed to schedule two invited talks within three days of one another.  I believe both are open to the public.  The Johnson-Krauss talk (Normal, IL, 26 Mar.) definitely is open to the public, and the Harry Potter talk (Pittsburgh, PA, 23 Mar.) offers no indication that public needs permission to attend.  So, if you’re in the area, stop on by!  Here are more details.


March 23, 2012

University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA

I’ll be speaking on “Harry Potter: A Cultural Biography” at 1:30 pm, in 324 Cathedral of Learning.  This is part of a day-long Harry Potter conference attended by University of Pittsburgh students.  Karin Westman is also giving a lecture, “Harry Potter and the Object of Art,” in the same location at 3:15 pm.  You can learn more about the event on this University of Pittsburgh webpage.


March 26, 2012

Illinois State University, Normal, IL

I’ll be speaking on “Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature” at  7 p.m., in 138 Schroeder Hall.  This is the spring’s Lois Lenski Lecture, and it will allow me to premiere what will be the “book talk” for my biography of Johnson and Krauss (which, not incidentally, has the same title as the talk).  You can learn more about the talk here.  They’ve got a spiffy poster for the event, too!

Philip Nel: Lois Lenski Lecture, Illinois State University, 2012

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That’s Not in the Book, You Know: The Absolutely, Positively, Possibly Final Post Concerning the Editing of the Biography of Crockett Johnson and Krauss

Crockett Johnson, "How to write a book," illus. from Ruth Krauss's How to Make an EarthquakeThe index and (now proofread!) page proofs for Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature (forthcoming this September) are in the mail, heading back to the publisher.  To commemorate this occasion, here are yet more cuts and a few other changes — most of which I’m fine with, but others of which inspire more mixed feelings.

First, some cuts!  I started sketching categories for the index long before the book went into copy-editing phases; as a result, there were names in my draft of the index that no longer appear in the biography.  Here are some of those names and the cuts that prompted their omission.

Abrashkin, Ray

A reference to the co-creator of the Danny Dunn series got relegated to a footnote, then cut altogether.  Here’s the footnote version:

Ruth [Krauss] seems to have adapted her book herself: a draft of the lyrics, in her hand, appears on the back of some notes and sketches for Is This You?  That said, the Children’s Record Guild’s archives have an unsigned contract that credits Ray Abrashkin for writing the record.  Perhaps they collaborated?

I now believe that Krauss wrote the lyrics, though I wouldn’t completely rule out input from Abrashkin. One result of this omission is that the image of The Carrot Seed record now appears … nowhere near the place it’s mentioned in the book.  Originally, the record appeared twice in the text, once at the time it was released, and once when W.D. Snodgrass cited it in his essay on the poet’s tact.  The latter reference remains, but the earlier one (where the record’s image appears) has gone.  (For more about the Children’s Record Guild, check out David Bonner’s Revolutionizing Children’s Records.  Bonner, incidentally, is my source for that unsigned contract.)

Capote, Truman,

When it went into copyediting, the bio. also included this short paragraph (the “Marc” is Marc Simont, who illustrated four of Krauss’s books):

Ruth and Dave also saw Marc socially.  He recalled accompanying them to “a party in Greenwich Village, where a group of young men were doing a farewell party for Truman Capote.”  They had prepared “big signs saying ‘Ciao,’” suggesting that the party was in February 1949, when Capote was leaving for Italy.  But Capote didn’t show up.

If Capote had shown up, this would have been worth including.  He didn’t.  So, cutting this makes sense.

Diary of a Nobody, The,

One of Johnson’s favorite books.  Since I can work this into one of the Complete Barnaby afterwords, I agreed to omit it from the bio.  If I hadn’t had the Barnaby option, then I would have certainly argued that it remain — a writer’s favorite book should be included in the biography of that writer.

Ernst, Max,

Surrealist and father of Jimmy Ernst, who is in the book, as is Jimmy’s spouse, Dallas Ernst.

Flaxer, Abram,

Flaxer was a union organizer and the second husband of Crockett Johnson’s first wife.

Grossmith, George,

Grossmith, Weedon,

The co-authors of The Diary of a Nobody (see above).

Hirschfeld, Al,

In a draft from early May 2011, I still had a reference to Al Hirschfeld, but that disappeared prior to copy-editing phase.  The context was Johnson’s early New Masses cartoons (1934-1935):

            Stylistically, Johnson has not yet arrived at the Otto Soglow-esque minimalism for which he is famous. Although the detail is less abundant and the lines more fluid than his earliest work, these lines display more dramatic variations in thickness — beginning thin at an end, and then inflating to show the shadow of an elbow or to accentuate the nape of the neck, before slimming back down to a point. Unlike Crockett Johnson’s characteristic style, these lines often do not close, instead just suggesting the boundaries of a figure. The faces of those whom he satirizes even include elements of caricature. These features bring his early cartoons nearer to that of his contemporary Al Hirschfeld. Johnson lacks Hirschfeld’s delight in rendering minutiae, and uses a lesser degree of exaggeration, but there is an edge that softens in Johnson’s later, characteristic style — a style which would emerge in just a few years, and which he would not alter for the rest of his career.

No trace of this paragraph remains.

Johnson, Lyndon Baines,

The original paragraph provided a little more context for petitions Johnson and Krauss signed:

Before traveling abroad, Dave and Ruth began speaking out at home. Though they likely voted for President Johnson in 1964 (or, certainly, against Senator Barry Goldwater), Dave and Ruth started opposing Johnson’s foreign policy before his new term began. After the North Vietnamese’s alleged attack (which in fact never occurred) in the Gulf of Tonkin, the August 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution gave the president carte blanche to escalate the Vietnam War.  Though the vast majority of Americans supported this, Dave and Ruth did not. In late December 1964 or early January 1965, Dave was among the 75 national initiating sponsors of the Assembly of Men and Women in the Arts, Concerned with Vietnam.  Joining him were old friends Kay Boyle, Antonio Frasconi, and Ad Reinhardt; New Masses-era colleagues Maurice Becker and Rockwell Kent; and Ray Bradbury, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsburg, E. Y. Harburg, and Tillie Olsen.

Courtesy of the copy-editor (who, as I say, was charged with doing a lot of actual editing), the final version reads like this:

Before departing, however, they began speaking out against the Vietnam War, which had begun to escalate with the passage of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in August. In late December 1964 or early January 1965, Johnson was among the seventy-five national initiating sponsors of the Assembly of Men and Women in the Arts, Concerned with Vietnam.  Joining him were old friends Kay Boyle, Antonio Frasconi, and Ad Reinhardt; New Masses-era colleagues Maurice Becker and Rockwell Kent; and Ray Bradbury, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsburg, E. Y. Harburg, and Tillie Olsen.

In retrospect, I wish I’d pushed back more on this one — and I encountered several such moments in the page proofs.  However, the copyedited text arrived with a quick deadline when I was already very, very busy.  I did my best, but had I more time to consider, I suspect I would have resisted a bit more.  Ah, well.  The copyeditor did make many improvements to the text.  At the page proofs phase, I of course notice only the changes that I dislike.  And I’ve changed some of those in the proofs phase — but only the critical ones, since changes at this stage require more labor from the press.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947): movie posterKaye, Danny,

Reviewers compared Ruth Krauss’s The Great Duffy (1946, illustrated by Mischa Richter) to James Thurber’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which was adapted into a film starring Danny Kaye.  The Mitty film (1947), I had written, may be one reason why Krauss’s film treatment of her own The Great Duffy didn’t get picked up.  But that’s purely speculative.  Mention of her film treatment remains, but the Mitty movie has departed.

Kenny’s Window,

The first book written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak.  Introducing the reviews of Ruth Krauss’s I Want to Paint My Bathroom Blue (which he illustrated and which was published the same year), I had the following sentence: “Much praise went to Sendak, whose first picture book, Kenny’s Window (1956), won an honor award from the New York Herald Tribune Book festival that spring.”  That’s gone, and so is the need for this reference in the index.

Leask, Alexander,

A reference to an ancestor of David Johnson Leisk (Crockett Johnson).  I originally had a whole paragraph on this guy.  That got condensed to a passing reference here (David Sr. is Crockett Johnson’s father, and this scene takes place in the 19-teens):

At home, while the nieces played piano, David Sr. sang along, carrying the bass part on tunes like “Mother McCree” and “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.”  The latter is a Scottish song allegedly composed by supporters of Charles Edward Stuart (“Bonnie Prince Charlie”) — the son of James Edward Stuart, whom Dave’s ancestor Alexander Leask supported two hundred years earlier

The first sentence remains in the book; the second sentence has been cut.  So, in this case, we’ve gone from a paragraph to a sentence fragment to… nothing!

A lot of family members have (wisely) been cut:

Leask, Arthur (CJ’s great-great grandfather),

Leask, Christina (CJ’s aunt),

Leask, John (CJ’s uncle),

Leask, Robert (CJ’s uncle),

Leask, Thomas (CJ’s uncle),

Leask, Thomas James (CJ’s great grandfather),

Leask, William (CJ’s distant ancestor),

Leisk, Ella (CJ’s cousin),

I was able to assemble quite a thorough genealogy of Crockett Johnson, but how interesting is this?  To me, very.  To others, not as much.  So, it’s gone.

Masses, The,

Art Young was a mainstay of The Masses, but also contributed to New Masses while Johnson was editor.  Young is still in the book, but the reference to his earlier career has left.

McCrea, Joel,

In a discussion of a 1948 Barnaby narrative, I’d invoked the great Preston Sturges film Sullivan’s Travels (1941, starring Joel McCrea) as a point of comparison.  The entire paragraph is gone, but a version of it will return in The Complete Barnaby, Vol. 4: 1948-1949.

Mencken, H. L.,

I’m completely fine with this cut.  Krauss studied violin at the Peabody Conservatory of Music — Mencken was a frequent visitor at the time.  Himself a pianist, he was also friends with Gustav Strube, Peabody teacher (and conductor of the newly established Baltimore Symphony).  And he knew some of Krauss’s teachers at Peabody, too.  This deserved to be cut because the connection to Krauss is far too tenuous: sure, she likely attended the same symphony concerts as Mencken, and may have been aware of his Peabody connections.  But these connections are not sufficient to keep Mr. Mencken in.

I Led 3 Lives (advert for TV program)Philbrick, Herbert,

I had a very brief reference to Mr. Philbrick (itself condensed from an even longer mention).  It appeared in the context of the FBI’s monitoring of Johnson:

As Herbert Philbrick notes in his memoir, I Led Three Lives (the basis for the Emmy-nominated TV series, 1953-1956), being a successful informant requires convincing the Communists of one’s loyalty: obvious visits from federal agents would give the game away.

Is it necessary?  No.  And so, it’s gone.

Psychoanalyst and the Artist, The,

Book by Daniel E. Schneider, Ruth Krauss’s psychoanalyst — the biography still includes a brief quotation from the book, but its title is now relegated to a citation.

Schwed, Peter,

Johnson was friends with Fred Schwed, Peter’s brother.  But Peter — a Simon & Schuster editor — appeared in the context of his fellow Simon & Schuster editor Jack Goodman.  Goodman & Fred Schwed remain in the book, but Peter’s gone.  Incidentally, Fred Schwed is author of the classic satirical look at Wall Street, Where Are the Customers’ Yachts? (1940, repub. 1955).

Searchinger, Marian,

Spouse of documentary filmmaker Gene Searchinger.  The Searchingers went on a vacation with Johnson and Krauss in the early 1950s, but that trip got cut.  Gene Searchinger is still in the book, though.  A number of his conversations with Johnson were quite illuminating.  I was saddened to discover, a few months ago, that Mr. Searchinger passed away in 2009.  I really enjoyed talking with him, and I think he would have enjoyed the biography.

Zigrosser, Carl,

In 1938, New Masses was planning an art supplement, thinking that such a feature might draw in more readers.  Johnson and contributing editor Herman Michelson went to the Weyhe Gallery to talk to Carl Zigrosser about this.  This entire paragraph has been cut.  Incidentally, someone looking for a project should consider publishing either all of or simply extracts from Zigrosser’s diaries.  I read them on microfilm in the Smithosnian’s Archives of American Art.  Meticulous, and fascinating.  Zigrosser knew everyone.

Zindel, Paul,

Ruth Krauss and Crockett Johnson went to parties thrown by Willard Maas and Marie Menken. So did Andy Warhol and Paul Zindel.  Warhol’s still in the book, but the copy-editor cut Zindel.  I let it stand, but now doubt that decision.


The changes that inspire the most mixed feelings are stylistic.  The copy-editor — who was also charged with editing the manuscript — made many helpful changes, which were valuable (and necessary) for reigning in my large manuscript.  Indeed, you can see many of the good changes in the list above, and in previous posts on this process.  In the copy-editing phase, I pushed back against some suggestions, and let others stand.  As noted above, the copy-edited manuscript arrived with a quick deadline when I lacked time to go through it with the degree of specificity I’d have preferred.  I did my best, but while reading the proofs I noticed some changes I wish I’d caught. I was able to correct some of them, but others had to remain.  With apologies to the copy-editor, these are some of the copy-editor’s changes that most rankled:

  1. Adding passive voice.  I suspect that this may from the copy-editor’s training in history, although I cannot say for certain.  I use passive only very rarely.  I restored most of my active voice, but sometimes let passive sentences stand.  In the proofs, I caught a number of instances in which traces of both sentences were there.  When I caught them, I crossed out the passive verb so that the text made sense.  I suspect, though, that I may have missed some.
  2. Making my sentences needlessly long.  I suspect that this, too, may derive from the copy-editor’s training in history — but I’m not sure.  My response may simply derive from the fact that I resist this trait common to an academic style. I dislike long, twisty academic sentences, and so I try to avoid them whenever I can.
  3. Making my paragraphs needlessly long.  I really want the book to have paragraphs of manageable length.
  4. Cramming all the dialogue together in a single paragraph instead of treating it as dialogue. Where possible, I’ve separated conversations out again.
  5. Cutting dialogue all together.  Dialogue helps create character.  Some of the conversations were clearly not neccessary.  But others,… I’m not so sure.  For example, I wish I’d retained more of Krauss’s last conversation with Sendak.

If I could have had a novelist (instead of an historian) as my copy-editor, that would have been ideal: I want this to read more like a novel, and less like a history. But, of course, I focus here on the changes that rankle because I forget the many (many!) beneficial changes instituted by the copy editor — who, let me repeat, made some very helpful suggestions.  I also focus on these things because I’ve been working on this book for over a dozen years, and (given that massive investment of time and energy) I want it to be the best that it can be. In sum, I focus on these things because I’m a perfectionist and thus have a hard time letting things go!

Crockett Johnson, "Fun at the Post Office" (from Ruth Krauss, How to Make an Earthquake)Anyway. Enough obsessing. It’s done. As I mentioned at the top, the marked-up page proofs and the index are on their way back to the publisher. And the biography will be out in the fall!  Even better, you won’t have to read yet another blog post in which I discuss writing the biography.  Probably.

 


Far, far too many posts on this blog relate to the writing of this biography.  Believe it or not, the list below does not even contain all such posts.  So, depending on your tolerance for tedium, you might proceed at your own risk here:

Posts tagged Crockett JohnsonRuth Krauss, or Biography may also be of interest.

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The Joy of Index

Crockett Johnson, "How to write a book," illus. from Ruth Krauss's How to Make an EarthquakeOK, “Joy” might be the wrong word — unless we modify that title to “The Anticipatory Joy of Finishing the Index” or “The Joy of Finding a Great Index.”  Creating an index can be a mind-numbing slog, and creating it while checking proofs (as I am doing right now) doesn’t make it any more fun.  But the index is also the most important part of any book.  It’s one reason that I tend to create my indices myself.  Sure, you can hire an indexer.*  But who knows your book better than you do?

Many people will enter Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature (coming fall 2012) via the index. Sure, I like to flatter myself and imagine that people will read the book from cover to cover.  But many people won’t.  The index is there to guide them.

It’s also there to guide people who have read the book, and are trying to locate something they remember reading.  We’ve all done this: OK, I know the book mentions this, but where does it mention it?

So, my index is very detailed.  For the two central characters (Johnson and Krauss), I’ve even created sub-indices.  I’ve only indexed the manuscript up to page 202, but here’s what they look like right now:

Krauss, Ruth Ida:

aesthetics of, 28, 33, 148, 153, 155

athletics of, 12, 14, 25, 68, 154

anthropology and, 51-54, 58, 63-64, 66, 69, 71, 93-94

anti-racism of, 11, 52, 64, 66, 93-94, 102, 104, 120-121, 162, 182

artistic ability of, 29-31, 124

birth of, 9

celebrity of, 187-188

childhood of, 9-15, 25-27,

childlessness of, 97-98

childlike aspects retained by, 14

death of, 102

dogs owned by, 53, 191-192

education of, 12-15, 26-31

family background of, 9-10

fan mail received by,

finances of, 28, 31, 68, 72, 111, 116, 138-139, 166, 201

friendships of, 28

health of, 11, 13, 51, 143

jobs held by, 28, 31, 39

marriages of, 39-40, 58, 68

meets CJ, 54

as mentor, 7, 124, 179-180, 189, 202

music of, 14, 26-27

narcolepsy of, 58, 100

nicknames of, 25-26

phobias and anxieties of, 12, 99, 101, 159-160

physical appearance, 4, 54, 158

political beliefs of, 11, 52, 64, 69, 79, 88, 93-94, 102, 104, 111, 120-121, 199

pseudonyms used by, 39, 189, 200

psychoanalysis and, 159-160

rapport with children, 84, 97-98, 133, 140, 142, 148, 163

religious background of, 4, 10, 13, 42

residences of, 3, 9-10, 12-14, 28, 31, 38-40, 57, 59

and sex, 31, 158

sexism faced by, 15, 39, 58, 72, 104, 127, 181

as surrogate parent,

travels of, 40-42, 51-52, 95, 187, 202

Krauss, Ruth Ida, works of:

advertising, 111, 165, 193

alternate titles for, 80, 114, 122, 126, 144, 166, 180, 182, 189

anti-racist message in, 162

audience for, 66, 96, 142, 155, 162, 170, 181-183, 188, 194

awards and honors, 111

childhood influences on, 25, 121

children’s language in, 5-6, 26, 109, 117, 122, 126, 130-131, 142, 144, 148, 153-154, 188

creative process, 5-6, 13, 72, 82-85, 98-100, 103, 117, 122, 124, 126, 140, 144, 160, 169-171, 188

editor for, 115

fiction for adults, 39, 96

imagination in, 82, 89, 126, 131

as influence, 6, 165-166, 193

innovation in, 116-117, 122-123, 126-128, 137, 140, 142-143, 153-154, 190

moral themes in, 66-67, 69-70, 93-94, 111-112, 121, 126, 130, 137, 162, 199

plays,

poetry, 38-40, 110, 154, 170, 183, 189-191, 195, 197, 199-201

promotional efforts for, 72

revisions of, 82-85, 95-96

sales of, 80, 127, 130, 138, 166, 170

on stage,

on television,

in translation and foreign editions, 120, 176

unpublished, 69, 71, 90, 93-96, 99, 116, 162-163, 169-170

see also specific works.

Leisk, David Johnson (aka Crockett Johnson):

aesthetics of, 7, 17, 24, 33, 44, 49, 68, 72-73, 149, 177-178, 185-187

athletics of, 24, 33, 46

anti-racism of, 47, 54, 79, 88, 104, 119

artistic ability of, 19

birth of, 16

carpentry of, 102, 143

celebrity of, 72, 96, 187-188

childhood of, 16-24, 189

childlessness of, 98

death of,

dogs owned by, 17, 35, 53, 102-103, 156, 191-192

education of, 17, 23-24

family background of, 16-21

fan mail received by, 71, 129

finances of, 32, 34, 44, 72, 81, 92, 147, 157

health of, 59

humor of, 19, 103, 135, 158, 177

jobs held by, 32-34, 44

manner of speaking, 19

marriages of, 35, 50, 58, 68

and mathematics, 23, 73-75

meets RK, 54

as mentor, 7, 124, 158, 180, 202

nocturnal habits of, 67-68, 73, 101-102, 155

origins of name, 16, 19

physical appearance, 4, 33, 54, 57, 149, 158, 179

political beliefs of, 18, 34-37, 43-44, 46-50, 54-56, 58-59, 63, 66, 76-77, 79, 86-88, 95, 103, 106, 108-109, 113, 119, 161, 194, 197

pseudonyms used by, 19, 21, 23, 37

religious background of, 4, 19

residences of, 3, 16-18, 20, 32-33, 35, 38, 57, 59

and sailing, 17, 68, 80, 155, 176, 179

and smoking, 24, 67, 71

as surrogate parent, 143-144

travels of, 49, 95, 187, 202

and typography, 24, 32-33, 73, 88, 176

Leisk, David Johnson (aka Crockett Johnson), works of:

advertising, 32-33, 56, 71, 134-135, 178, 193, 197

alternate titles for, 180-181, 199

animation, 79

audience for, 62-65, 71, 74, 77-78, 180, 185-186, 189

awards and honors, 178

cartoons, 193

comics, 18-22, 35-37, 43, 46-49, 53-65, 67-68, 70-74, 77, 79-82, 86-87, 90-92, 103, 106, 108-109, 113-114, 128-129, 135-137

childhood influences on, 19, 149, 157, 189

creative process, 19, 60, 67-68, 82, 98, 103, 140, 169, 173, 189

editor for, 33-34, 44-45, 49-50

editor for RK’s work, 78, 88, 124

imagination in, 5, 21, 23-24, 46, 67, 114, 148-152, 169, 171, 184, 186

illustrations for others’ work, 47, 66, 72, 78, 88, 139-142, 158

as influence, 5, 7

innovation in, 73, 140, 142-143, 145, 160-162

inventions, 124, 129, 148-149, 155, 158, 180

mathematical theorems,

moral themes in, 35-37, 43, 53-56, 58-59, 66, 75-76, 79, 161, 175-176

paintings,

promotional efforts for, 71

revisions of, 145, 154-155

on radio, 81-82, 105

sales of, 5, 6, 130, 149, 164-165, 170, 180-181, 200

on stage, 79-81, 91-93, 95-96, 104-105

on television, 148

in translation and foreign editions, 156, 176

unpublished, 91, 140-141

see also specific works.

In addition to indexing the book all the way to the end, this index may yet change in other ways — some categories may get removed, and others may be added. But the above entries are one example of how I hope to make the book useful to others.  And the level of detail represented serve as an example of why authors — if they have the stamina — should create their own indices.


* For the record, Lissa Paul and I did hire an indexer for Keywords for Children’s Literature (2011). Jon Eben Field did a fine job.  But I did my own indices for Dr. Seuss: American Icon (2004) and The Avant-Garde and American Postmodernity: Small Incisive Shocks (2002).


An extraordinary number of posts on this blog relate to the writing of this biography.  I can’t imagine that all (or even most) of them will be of interest, but, for the heartier among you, here are most of them:

Posts tagged Crockett Johnson, Ruth Krauss, or Biography may also be of interest.

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Harold and the School Mural

Harold taks his purple crayon to the walls of the Ben Franklin School, on Flax Hill, in Norwalk, Connecticut.  The school houses the Head Start program.  I’m told that the mural was painted by employees of Pepperidge Farm.

Harold mural at Ben Franklin School, Norwalk, Connecticut. Photo by Jackie Curtis.

Harold mural at Ben Franklin School, Norwalk, Connecticut. Photo by Jackie Curtis.

Harold mural at Ben Franklin School, Norwalk, Connecticut. Photo by Jackie Curtis.

Harold mural at Ben Franklin School, Norwalk, Connecticut. Photo by Jackie Curtis.

Harold mural at Ben Franklin School, Norwalk, Connecticut. Photo by Jackie Curtis.

The photos are all courtesy of Jackie Curtis, a friend of Ruth and Dave — a.k.a. Ruth Krauss and Crockett Johnson.  Known as Dave to his friends, Johnson created Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955) and its six sequels.  Krauss, author of A Hole Is to Dig (1952, illus. by Maurice Sendak) and The Carrot Seed (1945, illus. by Johnson), was married to Johnson. Both lived in Rowayton (South Norwalk), about three miles from the school where the above mural appears. And, as readers of this blog will be aware, Johnson and Krauss are the subjects of my double biography, scheduled to appear in September of this year.

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Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss Biography: Final Cuts, Part 3. Does This Make My Manuscript Look Fat?

Crockett Johnson, "How to write a book," illus. from Ruth Krauss's How to Make an EarthquakeI’d intended to post more of these in process, but literally had no time.  The manuscript was due back to the copy-editor yesterday — I mailed it today, and it will reach her Tuesday.  Some of her suggestions were dead-on, some were not, and others were somewhere in between.  I accepted the first type, rejected the second, and the third… required a lot of thought.  (The copy-editor was also charged with finding ways to reduce length.)  To help me evaluate my feelings about what to lose and what not to lose, I repeatedly asked myself: Does this change serve the story I’m trying to tell?

So. Here are some more things you will not see in Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature (coming from UP Mississippi, fall 2012).

I kept coming back to this passage, but couldn’t come up with a way to restore it.  It was right near the beginning of chapter one, and uses a photo of infant Ruth Krauss to offer a glance forward at the woman she became:

She was an only child, and her parents doted on her.  In the above photo, six-month-old Ruth looks over her left shoulder at the camera, conveying the impression that she is in charge, and she wants you to know it.

The photo (of course) remains, the “doting” part has been worked into the previous paragraph, and the copy-editor did a nice job in condensing the family history.  I ultimately decide to let it go, since there are other moments in which an incident from her childhood permits us a glimpse of her future — which constitute some of my (clumsy, perhaps) attempts to create character.  Having no experience writing fiction but requiring the skills of a creative writer, writing this biography has pushed me more than any other project has.

Since this is a critical biography, I need to include some analysis of the creative works of Johnson and Krauss.  The final manuscript does indeed include a bit of this material, but some also got cut in this last round. Although analyses of Ruth Krauss’s verse remain, my thoughts on her poem “Yuri Gagarin and William Shakespeare” have been excised.  Here’s the beginning of poem (also quoted in the book):

Winnie: How sweet to be a cloud

W.S.: when daisies pied and violets

Winnie: floating in the blue

W.S.: and lady-smocks all silver-white

and cuckoo buds of yellow hue

Winnie: Iniquum fatum fatu

W.S.: Cuckoo cuckoo cuckoo

And here’s my analysis (which will not be in the book):

When a late sixteenth-century song about cuckolding encounters an early twentieth-century song of a bear pretending to be a cloud, we might be reminded that Winnie-the-Pooh’s song is also motivated by both desire and deceit: To get the honey he craves, he masquerades as a cloud.  Or we might not see it this way, having forgotten either Shakespeare’s song, or Milne’s, or both. Without the contexts of the originals, the combination may instead be whimsical, playful, and even lyrical.

I’m not conflicted about cutting this.  My other analyses of her verse are better than this, which is fine but not brilliant.  And so… it’s gone!

I did have a hard time excising narrative and, indeed, often resisted suggestions to remove narrative. The copy-editor, for instance, had a tendency to summarize a conversation.  But a conversation works better dramatically — it’s better for storytelling than a summary is.  So, here’s something I cut. Later in life, Crockett Johnson (known as Dave to his friends) grew interested in the Bible, and began reading it carefully:

Mischa Richter asked him, “Well, what about it?  Are you still reading the Bible?”

Dave responded, “I had to stop.  The begats got me.”

I permitted that cut because I have another similar conversation between him and Andy Rooney (which I restored). Also, Mischa Richter is well established in the book — he was a close friend of Johnson’s.  Rooney was not a close friend; they were acquainted, but that’s all.  So, this is a chance to give him a “walk-on” part, as it were.

Omitting examples of Johnson’s dry wit was particularly hard for me.  To offer another example, I ended up cutting this summer 1950 vacation that he and Ruth took with Gene and Marian Searchinger:

Back in Connecticut and unaware that they were under investigation, Dave and Ruth drove off for a brief summer holiday with their friends Marian and Gene Searchinger, a filmmaker who was then working on NBC’s Today show. Each couple in their own car, they traveled up to Nova Scotia. Planning to park the cars on the ferry, they were surprised to learn that one needed to reserve spaces well in advance.  Between two pillars, there was one very small space left on the boat, just large enough for Dave’s little Austin Tudor sedan.  They left the Searchingers’ car on the mainland, and the four of them toured Nova Scotia in Dave’s small car.

They didn’t mind the close quarters, but getting a decent cup of coffee was a challenge. Since all four travelers required regular doses of caffeine, they developed a system. When they came upon a promising restaurant or cafe, one member of the group would enter, and order a cup.  He or she would then signal to the others whether they should come in or not.  The signal was a fist with one finger, two fingers, or three fingers extended — depending on the quality of the coffee.  After the trip, Dave gave Gene a gift commemorating their Nova Scotia holiday.  On a piece of wood, Dave painted a hand rising out of an ocean of coffee: only one finger was sticking up.

I’m a little conflicted about having cut this, but how important is it to the larger narrative?  I ultimately decided that it wasn’t as important to keep as some other stories were, and (a bit reluctantly) let it go.

On the whole, the result of my collaboration with the copy-editor is a better manuscript. That said, I do wish I’d had more time with this. At the busiest time of the term, I’ve had to respond to a heavily-edited manuscript that represents a dozen years of my labor. On the other hand, there is almost no moment during this semester that would have been great timing. The past four months have been the busiest of my professional life.

But that’s always the way. Just when you think you couldn’t get any busier, you do. Or, at least, I do.  And the important thing is that the manuscript is better for this work.  I’m really looking forward to sharing it with the world — in the fall of 2012!


Should this post have proven even slightly interesting, then there’s a remote chance that posts tagged Crockett Johnson or Ruth Krauss or Biography might fail to bore you.  Indeed, if you have read to this point and do not find yourself slipping into unconsciousness, you might test your stamina with some of these related posts.

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Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss Biography: Final Cuts, Part 2. The Dog Problem.

Crockett Johnson, BarkisImmersion in the thoroughly copy-edited manuscript has prevented me from getting more cuts up here, but there are plenty to share.  As noted in the post from earlier in the week, the copy-editor was also charged with reducing the length of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How An Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature (coming from UP Mississippi in September 2012).  So, the editing is quite… extensive.

She’s very thorough and, while I do not agree with all of her suggestions, our collaboration is producing a much stronger manuscript.  It forces me to reconsider each choice, every word, everything I’d decided to include.  Sometimes, a cut is easy to make.  For example, I had no trouble following her recommendation to cut this paragraph from a chapter on Crockett Johnson‘s (a.k.a. Dave’s) childhood:

The Queens of Dave’s youth strained under its rapid growth.  Between 1910 and 1925, Corona experienced a housing boom that ended only when there was no more land on which to build. Public School 16 opened in 1908, was already overcrowded by 1911, and siphoned off its excess population when Public School 92 opened in 1913 — about a year after Dave began attending P.S. 16. Although the development was great news for someone in the lumber business (as Dave’s dad was), the unpaved streets were treacherous for automobiles, and the absence of both speed limits and mandatory drivers’ licenses made crossing the road dangerous for pedestrians.

Other examples convey the urbanization of Queens; this one is less interesting than the others.  So, away it goes.

What I find most difficult are those I’ve come to think of under the heading “The Dog Problem.”  These are examples that, while still somewhat contextual, nonetheless inform our sense of who Crockett Johnson or Ruth Krauss were, or of what their work meant.  I call them the “Dog Problem” because the copy-editor has thrown out all stories concerning Johnson’s dogs — or, at least, all of them through Chapter 17 (I’ve not finished going through all of the manuscript).  He was a dog person, and so dogs were a major part of his life and hers.  As a result, I’m uncomfortable with these omissions.  It’s not enough to note that they had dogs (a fact which she does retain).  On the other hand, how many of these dog stories does the book really need?  My compromise, at this point, has been to restore the 1947 dog story, to relocate the early 1940s story to The Complete Barnaby Vol. 1 (coming from Fantagraphics, June 2012), and to omit this one, from Johnson’s first marriage:

Mary Elting and Franklin “Dank” Folsom found them great company, full of humorous stories. Dave and Charlotte had two dogs, one smart and the other not. They used to leave their screen door unlocked (“nobody locked doors in the Village in those days,” Mary says), allowing the dogs to go out into the garden when they pleased. The smart dog figured out how to open the door to come back inside, but the dumb dog did not. When it was raining, the smart dog liked to dash inside, and close the door behind him, leaving the other one out in the rain. Dave chuckled at the antics of his pets.

Johnson’s experience with dogs inform the creation of Gorgon (Barnaby’s dog), Barkis (from his short-lived, single-panel comic), and other dog characters.  They’re less of an influence on Krauss’s work, but very much a part of her daily life.  So, the book ought to have at least one dog story… and now it does!

One “Dog Problem” I’m struggling with right now is from Chapter 17.  She’s marked this paragraph for deletion:

Ruth and Dave also befriended psychiatrist Gil Rose, his wife Ann and their children, after they moved to Rowayton in 1955. An aspiring writer of children’s books, Ann admired Ruth’s work.  Gil enjoyed talking about psychology with Ruth, and often went sailing with Dave on the Five Mile River. One day, as they set out on the river, Dave said, “You know, this river is exactly five miles long.”  Gil, thought, ah, what a wonderful congruence of truth and language: the river is named Five Mile River because it’s five miles in length. After a few moments, Dave added, “Of course, that wasn’t the original name. The original name was, after the fact that there were five mills on the river, it was called the Five Mills River.” In other words, Gil says, “so much for language and truth.”  That, he notes, was typical of Dave’s sense of humor — “iconoclastic, pithy.”

The book contains other examples of Dave’s wit.  Does it need this one?  Well, in the sense that there are other examples, no, I don’t suppose it does need it.  On the other hand, in the sense that it sets up a later sailing story (that I’m definitely going to retain), it is important.  The anecdote also helps create character, which is good.  Dave’s reticent tendencies have made him particularly hard to bring to life.  Ruth was much more outgoing, outspoken, lively.  As a result, she’s much easier to animate on the page.  So, I’ve marked this one with a post-it note.  I’m thinking about it, and will return to it later.  Should you have any thoughts on whether or not to retain it, do feel free to share them in the comments section, below.


If you failed to find this post unbearably dull, you might also enjoy posts tagged Crockett Johnson or Ruth Krauss or Biography.  Indeed, if you have read this far and yet remain conscious, why not try reading some of these related posts?  Go on.  I dare you.

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Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss Biography: Final Cuts, Part 1. What’s in a name?

Crockett Johnson, "How to write a book," illus. from Ruth Krauss's How to Make an EarthquakeI know. You thought that me posting omitted portions of the biography was over months ago. So did I. Thing is, the copyeditor for Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How An Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature (coming September 2012) was also charged with getting the manuscript shorter still.  And so… there are further cuts.  On the mistaken assumption that two or three people might find these interesting, I’ll share a few.  Today’s concern the derivation of surnames — Krauss and Leisk (Crockett Johnson‘s real name was David Johnson Leisk).  I find this sort of information interesting, but there are other proposed cuts that I find even more worthy of keeping.  So, these items (formerly of Chapters 1 and 2, respectively) are cut.

Derived from the German kraus, Ruth’s surname means “curly” — and her hair was curly.  Though it probably originates in Bohemia, Krauss and its variants also appear in neighboring countries Austria and Germany.

The name Leask may derive from the Norse or Danish word for “a stirring fellow,” or it may be a diminutive of lisse, Anglo-Saxon for “happy.”  Johnson’s ancestors spell the name Leask until the latter half of the nineteenth century, when they also spell it Leisk. These two spellings may explain the name’s variant pronunciations — “Lihsk” or “Leesk.” Johnson pronounced it “Lihsk.”

Are there more cuts to share? you ask.  (Or, possibly, you don’t ask.)  Yes.  Yes, there are.  Plus there’s lots more on the bio, stored away in various corners of this blog.  Posts tagged Crockett Johnson or Ruth Krauss or Biography are probably going to lead you to something connected to the biography.  OK, a few won’t  But most will.  Anyway.  Here are some related posts:

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