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Crockett Johnson Tells the Story of Money

Today is the 111th birthday of Crockett Johnson (1906-1975). To celebrate, let’s take a deep dive in his oeuvre — looking at one of his lesser-known books, This Rich World.

The popular story is that Crockett Johnson began creating books for children when he illustrated Ruth Krauss’s The Carrot Seed (1945). This is a compelling narrative. Krauss was his wife, it was his first book for Harper (which would later publish his Harold books), and The Carrot Seed became a classic.

Constance J. Foster, This Rich World: The Story of Money, illustrated by Crockett Johnson (McBride, 1943): front cover

But the first book expressly for children that was illustrated by Crockett Johnson is Constance J. Foster’s This Rich World: The Story of Money (1943).  I say “book expressly for children” because, though his daily strip Barnaby included children among its readers, the comic — which yielded two books (in 1943 and 1944) — did not imagine young people as its primary audience. This Rich World: The Story of Money did.  As the dust jacket’s inside front flap says, “Into this unusual and delightful book have been packed all the things the young reader wants to know about money.”

As you might expect, some of the information in a book published three quarters of a century ago feels dated: This Rich World is too easy on colonialism and favors masculine pronouns (men earn money).

“all the things the young reader wants to know about money”

But there’s a lot in here that young people — and many of our elected representatives — could learn from today.  For instance, taxes are the price we pay for living in a civil society.

Crockett Johnson, "Taxless Town, part 1" from Constance J. Foster, This Rich World: The Story of Money (1943)

Crockett Johnson, "Taxless Town, part 2" from Constance J. Foster, This Rich World: The Story of Money (1943)

A flat tax (such as a sales tax) is unfair, because the wealthy and the working class pay the same tax, even though it costs the rich a far smaller percentage of their income.

Crockett Johnson, "You pay taxes, too!" from Constance J. Foster, This Rich World: The Story of Money (1943)

There’s interesting trivia, too, such as the derivation of the expression “worth his salt.” The word salary derives from the word for salt — a valuable commodity because the “ancient world had no refrigerators and so needed salt and spices to preserve its good” (35). So, “In early Roman times the soldiers received part of their wages in the form of salt. This was known as salarium, or salt money. We still say sometimes that a man isn’t ‘worth his salt’ when he is lazy or shirks his work” (36).

Crockett Johnson, "Are you worth your salt?" from Constance J. Foster, This Rich World: The Story of Money (1943)

Who was Constance J. Foster?

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)While writing the biography of Johnson and Krauss, I wondered: how did Johnson come to illustrate her book? Were they part of the same social circle? Might they have met? Biographical data on Constance J. Foster is scarce. So, I bought used copies of other books she wrote or co-wrote, hoping that the dust jackets might give me some clues. From her The Attractive Child (1941), we learn that she lives in Great Neck, NY, and that she consulted many experts — most of whom are from New York City.  She has a family (whom she thanks), and was likely then writing for Parents Magazine: one of her thanks goes to that publication’s editor. Fathers Are Parents Too (1951), co written with Dr. O. Suprgeon English, tells us that “Mrs. Constance J. Foster has been a free-lance writer since 1927 and her articles have appeared in Parents’ Magazine, Good Housekeeping, Ladies’ Home Journal, etc.” Her pamphlet, Developing responsibility in children (1953), offers much about her philosophy of parenting, but nothing about the author.

Constance J. Foster, The Attractive Child (1941) O. Spurgeon English and Constance J. Foster, Fathers Are Parents Too (1951) Constance J. Foster, Developing Responsibility in Children (1953)

As it turns out, our best source is the back dust jacket of This Rich World itself.

Constance J. Foster, This Rich World: The Story of Money, illustrated by Crockett Johnson (McBride, 1943): back cover

My guess is that she may have met Johnson — if she knew him at all — via Johnson’s wife. Krauss was then studying Anthropology at Columbia, and two of Foster’s sources for The Attractive Child are affiliated with Columbia. More than that, Krauss’s and Foster’s shared interest in children’s development might have provided occasion for them to meet.

Share the wealth

Whatever Foster’s connection (if any) to Johnson might have been, the book’s message is one that the current occupant of the White House would do well to heed. Foster argues that we should share the wealth. She twice cites Adam Smith’s “golden rule of world trade”: “It is better for a nation if the other nations with whom it does business are rich, not poor” (71, 157).

Crockett Johnson, "Wars are wasteful," from Constance J. Foster, This Rich World: The Story of Money (McBride, 1943)

Her final chapter — “Wars Are Wasteful” — repeats that point. If Foster is at times too willing to affiliate free trade with freedom, she also very rightly stresses the need to work together:

Only human brotherhood and the equality of all men, of all colors and races, will work. In the past some people have had more clothes and food and houses than they could use, while others have not had nearly enough. Unless we can build a world in the future in which everybody has enough, then no peace will last long. (157-58)

Crockett Johnson, frontispiece Constance J. Foster, This Rich World: The Story of Money (McBride, 1943)

Crockett Johnson’s art tells that story, too — the story of money and of the need to distribute it fairly if we are to live in peace.

Crockett Johnson birthday posts from previous years

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Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss Biography. Appendix B: We Are for Wallace

WE are for Wallace, 20 Oct. 1948: headerAt the risk of further alienating this blog’s modest readership, here is the second of four appendices cut from The Purple Crayon and a Hole to Dig: The Lives of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss (forthcoming from University Press of Mississippi, 2012).  As is true of Appendix A, this one also registers Johnson’s alliance with the Popular Front, an anti-Fascist coalition of leftists, liberals, and even some moderates.  (For more on the subject, please see Michael Denning’s The Cultural Front [Verso, 1998]; for more on children’s literature and the Popular Front, check out Julia Mickenberg’s Learning from the Left: Children’s Literature, the Cold War, and Radical Politics in the United States [Oxford UP, 2006].)  At this point (1948), however, the onset of the Cold War had begun to unravel the Popular Front — Wallace, FDR’s former Vice President, now garnered the support primarily of those on the left.  Liberals and some moderates went for Truman.

The results of this presidential election (1948) confirm the Popular Front’s demise: Progressive Party candidate Wallace came in fourth, just behind Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond.  Republican candidate Dewey came in second (as he had done in 1944), and the Democratic nominee Truman won.

Appendix B

WE Are for Wallace

[October 1948]

WE BELIEVE deeply that the words of Henry A. Wallace hold the promise of peace.

“There is no misunderstanding or difficulty between the U. S. A. and the U. S. S. R. which can be settled by force or fear and there is no difference which cannot be settled by peaceful, hopeful negotiations.  There is no American principle or public interest, and there is no Russian principle or public interest which would have to be sacrificed to end the cold war and open up the Century of Peace which the Century of the Common Man demands.”

WE BELIEVE with Henry Wallace that the major parties and their candidates — Thomas E. Dewey and Harry S. Truman — in bi-partisan alliance have brought us to the brink of war and fascism; that they represent in their policies the interests of the few at the expense of the many; that to a Democratic and a Republican Congress must be attributed inflation (Truman killed price control and the Republicans buried it); fear and intimidation (Truman’s Loyalty Order and the Republicans’ Thomas Committee); repression of labor (Truman charted the course for the Taft-Hartley law when he broke the railroad strike in 1946).

WE BELIEVE with Henry Wallace that America cannot be free until all men, regardless of race, color or creed, can live and work together without fear of discrimination.

WE BELIEVE with Henry Wallace that science, art, literature and education cannot flourish in an atmosphere of intimidation and policed opinion.

WE BELIEVE with Henry Wallace that the United Nations must be made effective, not by-passed or used by us or others, as a pawn in the game of power politics.

WE ARE AMERICANS loyal to our nation’s heritage.  We are deeply convinced that full realization of progress and freedom are possible for the people of this nation.  We believe that this is inherent in the program of policy of Henry A. Wallace.  As independents, and as artists, scientists and professionals, we are proud to pledge our support to his candidacy.

This advertisement is issued by the


Harlow Shipley, Chairman             Jo Davidson, Honorary Chairman

Victor Samrock, Treasurer

Don’t miss our Election Eve broadcast with Henry

Wallace, Glen Taylor and a host of celebrities.

Monday evening, Nov. 1st, 9:30 P. M.

over the American Broadcasting System

Bernice Abbott

Rev. Charles B. Ackley

Louis Adamic

Dr. Thomas Addis

Larry Adler

Gregory Ain

Prof. James W. Alexander

George Antheil

Edith Atwater

Prof. Irwin Ross Beuer

Marc Blitzstein

Kermit Bloomgarden

Peter Blume

Edward Bromberg

Richard Burgin

David Burliuk

Dr. Allan M. Butler

Dr. George D. Cannon

Morris Carnovsky

Vera Caspary

Edward Chodorov

Dr. S. W. Clausen

Nicolai Cikovsky

W. G. Clugston

Robert M. Coates

Lee J. Cobb

George Colouris

Betty Comden

Fanny Cook

Aaron Copland

Dr. Samuel Corson

Howard da Silva

Jo Davidson

Dr. John de Boer

Adolph Dehn

Martha Dodd

Prof. Dorothy W. Douglas

Olin Downes

Paul Draper

W. E. B. DuBois

Roscoe Dunjee

Prof. L. C. Dunn

Clifford J. Durr

Arnaud D’Usseau

Dr. Thomas Emerson

Lehman Engel

Philip Evergood

Prof. Henry-Pratt Fairchild

Fyke Farmer

Howard Fast

Prof. Joseph Fletcher

Leatrice Joy Gilbert

Jay Gorney

Morton Gould

James Gow

Charles P. Graham

William Gropper

Wrnest O. Grunsfeld

Robert Gwathmey

Prof. David Haber

Uta Hagen

Talbot Hamlin

Dashiell Hammett

E. Y. Harburg

Minna Harkavy

Prof. Fowler Harper

Dr. Marion Hathaway

Lillian Hellman

Joseph Hirsch

Ira Hirschman

Judy Holliday

Libby Holman

Mary Hunter

John Huston

Burl Ives

Sam Jaffe

Crockett Johnson

Dean Joseph L. Johnson

Reginald Johnson

Matthew Josephson

Robert Josephy

Garson Kanin

William Katzell

Nora Kaye

Stetson Kennedy

Robert W. Kenny

Rockwell Kent

Arthur Kober

Carl Koch

Howard Koch

Alfred Kreymborg

Alexander Laing

Millard Lampell

John Latouche

Richard Lauterbach

John Howard Lawson

James D. Le Cron

Canada Lee

Robert E. Lee

Alan Lipscott

Harry L. Lurie

Aline MacMahon

Norman Mailer

Albert Maltz

Thomas Mann

Fletcher Martin

John Martin

Prof. F. O. Matthiessen

Dr. Leo Mayer

Frederic G. Melcher

Lewis Milestone

Arthur Miller

Dr. Clyde R. Miller

Sam Moore

Prof. Philip Morrison

Willard Motley

Isamu Noguchi

Clifford Odets

Prof. Frank Oppenheimer

John O’Shaugnessy

Shaemas O’Sheel

Prof. Erwin Panofsky

Prof. Linus Pauling

I. Rice Pereira

S. J. Perelman

Jennings Perry

Minerva Pious

Abraham L. Pomerantz

Prof. Walter Rautenstrauch

Anton Refregier

Anne Revere

Bertha C. Reynolds

Mischa Richter

Wallingford Riegger

William M. Robson

Harold Rome

Prof. Theodor Rosebury

Norman Rosten

Muriel Rukeyser

Fred Saidy

Dr. Bela Schick

Artur Schnabel

Budd Schulberg

Prof. Frederick L. Schuman

Adrian Scott

Edwin Seaver

Ben Shahn

Artie Shaw

Herman Shulmin

Prof. Ernest J. Simmons

Louis Slobodkin

Maud Slye

Agnes Smedley

Moses Soyer

Raphael Soyer

Alfred K. Stern

Philip Van Doren Stern

I. F. Stone

Paul Strand

Prof. Dirk J. Struik

William M. Sweets

Arthur Szyk

Helen Tamiris

Louis Untermeyer

Mark Van Doren

Mary Van Kleeck

Pierre Van Paasen

Prof. Oswald Veblen

Prof. Eda Lou Walton

Lynd Ward

Theodore Ward

Prof. Colston E. Warne

Dr. Goodwin Watson

Max Weber

Charles Weidman

Dr. F. W. Went

Edward Weston

Frank W. Weymouth

Prof. Norbert Wiener

James Waterman Wise

Prof. Thomas Moody

Frank Lloyd Wright

William Zorach

Leane Zugsmith

. . . and thousands of other artists, scientists and professionals whom space does not permit listing.

If you agree with us, help spread this message in newspapers throughout the country and help broadcast Henry Wallace’s message to millions of Americans in a final Election Eve broadcast.

[Following the above sentence, the ad includes a form to clip and send — with a contribution — to the National Council of the Arts, Sciences and Professions]

Source: “WE are for Wallace,” advertisement, New York Times, 20 Oct. 1948, p. 32.

WE Are For Wallace, 20 Oct. 1948

Some on the above list wrote or illustrated books for young readers: In addition to Johnson, there’s Louis Slobodkin, Mischa Richter, and Lynd Ward.  Abraham L. Pomerantz was the father of future children’s author Charlotte Pomerantz.  Careful readers might also notice three of the group who would be known as “The Hollywood Ten“: John Howard Lawson, Albert Maltz, and Adrian Scott.

If you liked this post, you might find the following entries mildly intriguing, since all concern The Purple Crayon and a Hole to Dig: The Lives of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss:

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Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss Biography. Appendix A: American Committee for Spanish Freedom

Crockett Johnson studied typography from Frederic Goudy, Ruth Krauss learned about anthropology from Ruth Benedict, and they both knew Ad Reinhardt (who was a particular friend of Johnson’s).  Their acquaintances with the influential typographer, anthropologist, and abstract impressionist are all in the book — The Purple Crayon and a Hole to Dig: The Lives of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss (forthcoming 2012). Because I’m fascinated by such intersections between people’s lives, here is the first of a series of connections I’ve had to omit.  Originally, I thought I might include these appendices, but the book is already longer than the publisher would like, and these would just take up more pages.

So, with links to relevant information about some of the names, here’s one on the American Committee for Spanish Freedom — a Popular Front group that opposed Franco’s fascists, and supported the Abraham Lincoln Brigades and others fighting for a democratic Spain.

Appendix A

American Committee for Spanish Freedom

55 West 42nd Street • New York 18, N.Y. • Lackawanna 4-9814

[December 1945]



Bishop Lewis O. Hartman


Dr. Ruth Nanda Anshen


S. L. M. Barlow


Hon. John M. Coffee


Bartley C. Crum


Allan Chase


Samuel J. Novick


Joseph Sweat




Thomas Bouchard

Dr. Louis Finger

Leon Pomerance

Martin Popper

Edward Robinson

Herbert A. Wise


Artists & Scientists Committee

Bennett Cerf

Olin Downes

Paula Laurence

Yella Pessl


Interfaith Committee

Rev. W. Ellis Davies

Dr. T. S. Harten

Dr. John A. Mackay

Rev. William Howard Melish

Dr. A. Clayton Powell, Jr.

Dr. W. Stanley Rycroft

Dr. Robert W. Searle


Labor Committee

Eugene P. Connolly

Joseph Curran

Jay Rubin


Women’s Committee

Mrs. Ferdinand de Bermingham

Mrs. Burton Emmett

Mrs. B. W. Huebsch

Alice Jayson

Mrs. George Marshall

Mrs. Lionel Perera, Jr.

Mrs. Vincent Sheehan



Rev. Melvin Abson

Rev. Charles B. Ackley

Louis Adamic

Samuel Hopkins Adams

James Luther Adams

Stella Adler

Marian Anderson

Claudio Arrau

Bishop J. C. Baker

Wade Crawford Barclay

S.N. Behrman

Albert Bein

William Rose Benet

Elmer A. Benson

Mrs. Nicolai Berezovsky

Leonard Bernstein

Alvah Bessie

Rev. L. M. Birkhead

Algernon D. Black

Anita Block

Isidore Blumberg

Dr. Ernst P. Boas

Alexander Brallowsky

Joseph Brainin

Van Wyck Brooks

Prof. Edwin Berry Burgum

Sam Burt

Merlyn A. Chaffel

Stewart Chaney

Jerome Chodorov

Thomas Christensen

Rev. Karl M. Chworowsky

Walter Van Tillburg Clark

Mrs. Alma Clayburgh

Charles Collins

Rev. T. C. Cooper

Aaron Copland

Bishop Fred P. Corson

Norman Corwin

William Cosgrove

John H. Cowles

Dr. Leo M. Davidoff

Jo Davidson

Rev. A. Powell Davies

M. R. Davis

Dale Dewitt

Howard Dietz

Dr. R. E. Diffendorfer

Dean Dixon

Mrs. Louis Dolivet

Guy Pene DuBois

Vernon Duke

Frederick May Eliot

Clifford Evans

William Feinberg

Lawrence Fernsworth

Jose Ferrer

Betty Field

Mrs. W. Osgood Field

Abram Flaxer

Eleanor Fowler

Charles Friedman

Walter Frisbie

Stephen H. Fritchman

William S. Gailmor

Hugo Gellert

Mortimer Gellis

Irving Gilman

Mrs. Harold K. Ginzburg

H. Glintemkamp

Louis Goldblatt

Mrs. Israel Goldstein

Ruth Gordon

D. W. Greene

James Griesi

Wiliam Gropper

Chaim Gross

Rev. Albert R. Hahn

E. Y. Harburg

Mrs. J. Borden Harriman

Moss Hart

The Very Rev. H. S. Hathaway

Mrs. William C. Hayes

Rev. Stanley B. Hazzard

Dr. I. W. Held

Lillian Hellman

Rev. Warren C. Herrick

George R. Hewlett

H. G. Hightower

Randall S. Hilton

Rev Chester E. Hodgson

Libby Holman

Leo Huberman

Alice Hughes

Rev. M. P. Huntington

Mrs. Raymond V. Ingersoll

Stanley M. Isaacs

Burl Ives

Nathan Jacobson

Sam Jaffe

Crockett Johnson

Albert E. Kahn

Aben Kandel

George S. Kaufman

Dr. Foster Kennedy

Rockwell Kent

James V. King

Alexander Kipnis

Dr. C. Franklin Koch

Rev. John M. Krumm

Mrs. James L. Laidlaw

Harold Lane

Wilbur Laroe, Jr.

Kenneth Leslie

Rabbi Israel Leventhal

Samuel Lewis

David Lord

Rev. Donald G. Lothrop

Louis Lozowick

Pierre Luboshutz

Dr. John A. MacCallum

Fritz Mahler

Albert Maltz

Alicia Markova

Benjamin C. Marsh

Elsa Maxwell

Dorothy McConnell

Bishop Francis J. McConnell

John T. McManus

Lewis Merrill

Nathan Milstein

Hortense Monath

Rev. G. Moore Morgan

Dr. John R. Mott

Zero Mostel

Morris Muster

Frederick N. Myers

Mrs. Richard Myers

Rabbi F. Neuman

Rev. William L. Nieman

Isamu Noguchi

Rev. Rowland F. Nye

Clifford Odets

Sarah Oppenheimer

Sono Osato

Bishop G. Bromley Oxnam

Jack Paley

Cyrus R. Pangborn

Rev. E. W. Parmelee

Rev. Edward L. Parsons

Rev. B. Pascale

Elliot Paul

Dr. Norman Vincent Peale

Dr. John M. Pearson

Wilfrid Pelletier

W. W. Peters

A. C. Petty

Mishel Piastro

Gregor Piatigorsky

Dr. Louis W. Pitt

Rabbi Benjamin Plotkin

Dr. Gordon Poteat

Rabbi Julius J. Price

Michael J. Quill

Rev. David Ralston

Minnie F. Rands

Samson Raphaelson

Kenneth G. Read

Anton Refregier

Rev. Thomas Rehorn

Mrs. Bernard Reiss

Elmer Rice

Rev. B. C. Robeson

Raymond Robins

Mrs. Nathaniel Ross

Rev. John Saunders

Dr. Bela Schik

Mrs. William J. Schieffelin

Artur Schnabel

Mrs. M. Lincoln Schuster

Bernard Segal

Joseph Selly

Lisa Sergio

D. R. Sharpe

Dr. Guy Emery Shipler

William L. Shirer

Mrs. William L. Shirer

Herman Shumlin

Mrs. Kenneth F. Simpson

Dr. Joseph R. Sizoo

Edgar Snow

Dr. Ralph Sockman

Moses Soyer

Raphael Soyer

Dr. Sigmund Spaeth

Joseph Stack

Johannes Steel

Estelle M. Sternberger

Donald Ogden Stewart

Rev. Stanley I. Stuber

F. M. Swing

Genevieve Taggard

Alva W. Taylor

Frank E. Taylor

Max Torchin

Mark Van Doren

Pierre Van Passen

Erwin Wagner

Nym Wales

J. Raymond Walsh

Charles Weidman

Kurt Weill

Louis Weinstock

Henry N. Wieman

Rev. Claude Williams

James Waterman Wise

Mrs. Stephen S. Wise

Dr. Gregory Zilborg

Mrs. Gregory Zilborg

William Zorach

Source: letterhead and list of sponsors, on letter from Milton Wolff, National Commander, Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, to Miss Shirley Johnson (Rockwell Kent’s secretary), 6 Dec. 1945, reel 5155, frame 181-182, Rockwell Kent Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian.

If you liked this post, you might find the following entries marginally interesting, since all concern the creation of The Purple Crayon and a Hole to Dig: The Lives of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss:

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The Trauma Games

Suzanne Collins, MockingjayWar is hell.  If General Sherman (and, I expect, many others) hadn’t said it first, I suspect Suzanne Collins might have chosen those three words as a subtitle for her Hunger Games trilogy.  As its predecessors did, Mockingjay dramatizes the physical and emotional consequences of war.  It’s especially adept at displaying the scars invisible to those of us who either have not been in a war or do not know people who have. The victors of the Hunger Games cannot sleep — as Finnick says, “I drag myself out of nightmares each morning and find there’s no relief in waking” (156).  They are haunted by what they’ve done, and by what they haven’t done.  Even if the physical wounds heal, the emotional ones linger.  Early in the novel, after Gale admits that he’d use a bow and arrow on people if it would keep Katniss safe, she thinks, “I don’t know what to tell him about the aftermath of killing a person. About how they never leave you” (68). Like the first two books in series, the third is about trauma.

It is also about torture, which — no matter what your government tells you — is not merely an “enhanced interrogation technique.”  It’s torture.  Characters in Mockingjay have been tortured by the agents of Panem, the totalitarian regime against which the Rebels (including our heroine Katniss) fight.  Appropriately, Collins does not invite us into the scenes of torture.  She shows us what happens later, how torture’s survivors cope.  The tortures of Panem are a sophisticated cruelty, a more subtle and more damaging type of the aversion therapy scenes in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971).  One character has been soaked in water, and then given electric shocks; now, rain, the shower, water of any kind triggers a flashback to that experience.  Another has been drugged with venom, conditioned not just to doubt but to kill a loved one.  Damage inflicted on the mind, the novel suggests, is the hardest pain to bear.  As Katniss says late in the novel, “I can’t believe how normal they’ve made me look on the outside when inwardly I’m such a wasteland” (366).

Though Collins understands why people would feel the need to fight a war, Mockingjay offers a more eloquent defense of pacifism than of, say, a “just war.”  There’s a line in the book that made me think of the lists of dead troops from America’s current wars, names of people who are almost always younger than I am — people in their 20s, and sometimes as young as 17 or 18.  To say nothing of the hundreds of thousands of children killed in those wars.  This is the line.  Considering the “creature” that is a human being, Katniss observes, “something is significantly wrong with a creature that sacrifices its children’s lives to settle its differences” (377).

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