Harold and the Purple Crayon - Thao Lam
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Harold and the Purple Crayon

Harold and the Purple Crayon

Harold and the Purple Crayon

Is graffiti art or vandalism? Keep reading…

Our Mayor has been on a warpath, making it his agenda to clean up the city. I happen to live behind one of the city’s most notorious graffiti alleyways, and I think it’s beautiful. These pieces aren’t made by gangs marking their territory and damaging private property, these are created by artists beautifying a neighborhood. Boring and unsightly alleyways have been transformed; bold colours now bring back to life places that had once been forgotten or ignored.

I do empathise with property owners; I once had my garage tagged by an amateur. I am against gangs marking their territory and don’t consider gang tags a form of art. Private and public property should be respected and permission should be granted first. Some business owners have started collaborating with graffiti artists since street art has gained popularity and credit as an art form (thanks to Banksy). When a new supermarket chain opened up in our neighborhood, it hired a couple of graffiti artists to give it some street cred and help incorporate it into our neighborhood.

I make it a point to cut through the alleyways to see what is new on my way home (I am not wandering the alleyways at night in case my parents are reading). Last summer one of the local papers listed 10 things to do with your kids in the city and one of their suggestions was to check out the graffiti scattered around the city. It was an odd summer seeing families touring the alleyways and using graffiti art as backdrops for family photos. I think these alleyways have become one of the city’s best art scenes. Galleries can be pretentious but I think graffiti is more accessible and the best part, it’s free. I think graffiti reflects the vibe and the social changes in our community; Mayor Ford has been a hot topic among the graffiti artists lately, he has been depicted in many colourful ways.

Printed in 1955, Harold and the Purple Crayon was the first in a series of 9 books written and illustrated by Crockett Johnson. With a lot of imagination and curiosity, Harold created his own world simply by drawing it. As Harold begins to draw a story begins to unfold. Harold and the Purple Crayon is most creative concept for a story I have ever came across; it feels like Harold is controlling the direction and pace of the story, not the author. Harold and the Purple Crayon is simply told and executed in monochromatic colour. Crockett Johnson started his career as a cartoonist so I am not surprise that the style reminds me of the Sunday Comics.

I view Harold as a budding graffiti artist finding himself on a white pages of a book eager to tell his story, much like a graffiti artist stumbling upon a blank wall, the possibilities are boundless. With his purple crayon Harold draws us (pun intended) into his world, and show us just how far our imagination can take us.

Harold and the Purple Crayon, a children’s book review by Thao Lam

Author Crockett Johnson

(October 20th, 1906 to July 11th, 1975)

Crockett Johnson is the pen name of cartoonist and children’s book illustrator David Johnson Leisk. He was born and raised in New York City. He went on to study art at Cooper Union and New York University.

Information on Crockett Johnson is pretty slim and vague. It seem the deeper I dig the more curious things got. In 1950’s the FBI opened a file on Crockett, they opened his mail, monitored his bank account, and noted all the names of people who came in contact with him. Sadly none of the websites explains why the FBI placed Crockett under such scrutiny. For answers I will have to wait for the release of Crockett Johnson’s biography. Philip Nel, a Professor of English and Director of Kansas State University’s Program in Children’s Literature, has been researching and writing about Crockett’s life story. Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature will be in bookstores September 2012.


Publisher HarperCollins; 1st edition (May 15, 1998)

ISBN-10 0064430227

ISBN-13 978-0064430227