Top 100 Picture Books #100: The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss, illustrated by Crockett Johnson
Check your jaw at the door as I inform you that this book did not even crack the Top 100 the last time I conducted a picture book poll. Consider a great wrong finally righted then. Seen as everything from a religious lesson to a predecessor of the Do What You Feel generation, the book is essentially picture book haiku. Not a word out of place. Authors everywhere will understand then when I ask . . . do you know how HARD it is to do what Krauss did here?
Phil Nel describes the plot this way: “A little boy plants a carrot, everyone keeps saying ‘it won’t come up,’ but every day he keeps ‘sprinkling the ground with water.’ This story has been interpreted as being about faith, persistence, or simply ignoring the nay-sayers. Maurice Sendak calls it a ‘perfect picture book’.”
This was Krauss’s second picture book but her first big hit. In her 100 Best Books for Children Anita Silvey says that “When it was published, The Carrot Seed contained one of the shortest picture book texts, a mere 101 words.” I have heard it performed as a very effective song by traveling performers, and certainly as a storytime title it works as well now as it did in 1945.
Philip Nel, a man I cannot help but mention in conjunction with Mr. Johnson due to the fact that his book Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature is due out this September, wrote a piece called Children’s Literature + Music = Great Album Covers. You can see that cover at the bottom of this piece.
- The site Crockett Johnson’s Books: Collaborations contains the best online information about the great man. On the topic of this particular book it says, “Asked what books he would select for his ‘Western Canon for children,’ Chris Van Allsburg told HomeArts that, in addition to Harold and the Purple Crayon, he’d choose The Carrot Seed. Click here to read why. In his essay ‘Ruth Krauss and Me,’ Maurice Sendak praises ‘that perfect picture book, The Carrot Seed (Harper), 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’.” Also available in Spanish and as a song.
Might as well listen to it now if you like.
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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