Friday, October 28, 2011

The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss

The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss was first published in 1945 and has never gone out of print. It was illustrated by the author's husband, Crockett Johnson (creator of Harold and the Purple Crayon, another fabulous children's book). Unfamiliar with its celebrity status at the time, I picked this up at a bookstore in New York City, attracted by the simplicity of the cover and the colours plus the line, "When you are very young, there are some things that you just know".

Sometimes called "the little book with the big idea", this simple story about faith is about a little boy who plants a carrot seed. While everyone tells him "it won't come up", he continues to tend to it patiently and lovingly with steadfast conviction and unshakeable belief until, one day, a gigantic carrot pops up "just as he knew it would". Little ones will enjoy the lesson that they can be successful if they work hard and believe in something, and not give up even when people are discouraging or skeptical.

The entire book is a testament to minimalism - at 101 carefully chosen words, it was one of the shortest picture book texts when it was first published in 1945. The illustrations are just as sparse and minimal yet nothing is lost - the confidence, hope and grace of the little boy is masterfully depicted. The whole book is done in carrot-like tones and colours, with the brightest colour being the huge orange carrot which appears at the end.

When asked how long it took her to write The Carrot Seed, Krauss always said “her whole life.” She had to pare the story down, again and again, until she got its essence. Johnson, who was himself bald, always drew bald characters or, in the case of The Carrot Seed, a child with a single hair. He maintained that bald heads were easier to draw than ones with hair.

In his essay, "Ruth Krauss and Me", author Maurice Sendak described this book as "that perfect picture book, The Carrot Seed, the granddaddy of all picture books in America, a small revolution of a book that permanently transformed the face of children's book publishing. The Carrot Seed, with not a word or a picture out of place, is dramatic, vivid, precise, concise in every detail. It springs fresh from the real world of children."

Ryan loves this book and sits quietly while we read it. When we get to the end, he always has a smile on his face and he usually lets out a quiet and satisfied "Wow."


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