Saturday, September 28, 2013

Harold and the Purple Crayon... and a red crayon too!

Harold and the Purple Crayon
by Crockett Johnson
64 pages, 1955

Harold is a little boy with a big purple crayon and an even larger imagination. The book is delightfully simple - Harold lives in a blank-canvas of a world, and with his purple crayon he can create the adventure he wants to embark on. As his adventure begins Harold is faced with a problem:
One evening, after thinking it over for some time, Harold decided to go for a walk in the moonlight. There wasn't any moon, and Harold need a moon for a walking the moonlight. 
So Harold uses his purple crayon to draw the moon, and then to draw a path to set out on.

One of the funniest situations occurs when, after drawing  "a terribly frightening dragon," Harold is so scared by his own creation he backs away, and "His hand holding the purple crayon shook." So what happens when you draw with a shaking hand? You draw waves! So Harold ends up backing away from the dragon into water he had just accidentally created! Fortunately the quick-thinking Harold rectifies the situation by drawing a boat to climb into.

Children will appreciate the imaginative storyline, and the simple illustrations – attractive but also do-able for children as young as four or five. So Harold's adventure may inspire your children to create some adventures of their own!

You can pick it up at here, and here.

by Aaron Becker

40 pages, 2013

While Crockett Johnson wrote sequels to Harold and the Purple Crayon I think Aaron Becker's Journey might be the most worthy successor.

There are some notable differences: Harold's world is a blank page, ready to be drawn on, while Journey has lavish full color spreads; Harold is narrated, while Journey is a completely wordless book. But in both books a child equipped with a large crayon and an even larger imagination sets out on an adventure of their own creating.

Journey begins with a bored little girl trying to get her mom, her dad, or his sister to come play with her. But her family is too busy, so the girl retreats to her room where she happens upon her red crayon. She draws a red door on her wall, and opens it to an entirely new world. A quickly drawn red boat allows her to float down a forest stream to a castle that has moats running all throughout it, and friendly guards who wave her through. Like Harold, she too, in a moment of quick thinking, conjures up a balloon to save herself from a big fall. The adventure continues into the clouds, where she comes upon a strange king, his stranger airship, and a beautiful bird that looks almost as if someone - someone with a purple crayon - had drawn it!

I loved "reading" this with my three-year-old daughter, asking her as we turned each page to tell me what was happening. Sometimes I had to point out certain details in the pictures to help her along, but for the most part this was a book that she could, to her delight, read to her daddy. Simply wonderful!

Becker has turned now this into a trilogy, with the girl being joined by a chalk-drawing friend for a Quest in book two, and then coming full circle, and meeting up with her father in the chalk world in book three, Return. I've read both to my girls, and we loved every bit of it – they are just as charming, and also wordless, so the girls get to search out the pages, and figure out the story right along with dad.

But these two sequels got a little mystical. In the second book, Quest, this mysticism is so minor it is hardly worth mention – a quest for other chalk colors takes them diving underwater to an ancient Greek-type temple, and then up in the mountains to some Buddhist type temple. No biggie.

In book three, Return, they end up in a cave where drawings on the wall show their previous adventures, and also prophecies about how they will beat the bad guy who is chasing them. They follow the directions, and yes, it works just as the drawings foretold. Now, there are no words in these books, so there are no details as to how these drawings came to be, and what person or being made them. And, as the dad "reading" this with my daughters, I can choose to point out the details as I like and I just didn't focus my daughters' attention on this prophetic angle. But the author, in creating a world where chalk drawings can come alive, is now also creating a bit of a "chalk religion" in book three, and I found that a bit disconcerting.

All in all, I'd recommend book one and two with no cautions – these are great imaginative books that I'd consider buying, because they stand up to repeated viewings. But book three is one I'd be up for borrowing from the library, but not so interested in owning.

You can pick up Journey at here, and here.

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