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Harold and the Purple Crayon: 04/27/09

Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson is eighteen years older than I am but I will always associate it (and the other books that followed) with my early childhood. When I was first setting up this website (way before the word blog had been coined) one of my first posts was a review of the Harold series. I've since taken down that page but you can probably find it cached on the Way Back Machine. Since then I've had two kids of my own and they have discovered the Harold books. So with renewed interest in my old favorite series, I am re-reviewing them.

Harold is an artist boy of undetermined age but probably preschool aged from the way he's drawn. He has a fondness for purple and his entire world is created in three colors only: white black (his outline and the text) and mostly purple (which Harold uses to create his world on his night time explorations).

In this first book, Harold's drawings move and radiate off a single line that defines the horizon. The moon is always there to show that it's night and to give a hint at Harold's location in his walk. Harold adventure is told like a video game sidescroller. It's implied that he's walking across the pages, creating the world as he drags the purple crayon along the paper. Harold may change size relative to the things he draws but he never changes size relative to the page. This fact is called out early in the book when he first draws a road made of lines converging on a varnishing point. Since he can't walk into the page the road is useless to him.

In attention and accidents alter Harold's world. A loosely held crayon results in bumpy lines which in turn become the waves of the sea. A line going up the page becomes a mountain and stopping the line creates a cliff to fall off. In all of this, Harold seems unaware at first that he holds the key to finding his way home, no matter how lost he may become.

Comments (8)

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Comment #1: Tuesday, April, 28, 2009 at 02:28:46


This was one of my favorite books as a child! I have to look it up at the library and see what my son thinks about it!

Comment #2: Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 22:11:04


My oldest didn't like it until he was about five. My youngest is nearly three and already loves it. Happy reading!

Comment #3: Tuesday, April, 28, 2009 at 04:45:28


This is one of the books in my wishlist. I discovered the book in college, as it didn't really make it big here in the Philippines, but have been combing through bargain bookstores for a copy ever since. Hopefully one day I'll strike gold and get myself a copy :)

Comment #4: Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 22:15:22


Good luck!

Comment #5: Tuesday, April, 28, 2009 at 10:53:27

Lady Z

I love both this book and the short film, which I hadn't seen for years. Thanks for the review!

BTW, have you seen the Simon cartoons recently? You can find them on YouTube -- another favorite from my childhood about a similar concept. (And fodder for one of Mike Meyers' funnier SNL sketches!)

Comment #6: Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 22:17:12


I haven't seen or heard of the Simon cartoons.

Comment #7: Saturday, May, 2, 2009 at 10:44:45


I absolutely LOVED reading this book to all 3 of my children - and I anxiously await the time to share it with my grandchildren!

Comment #8: Saturday, May 2, 2009 at 16:11:54


I have fond memories of being read it by my grandfather. He happened to be named Harold and looked like a grown up version of the boy in the book.

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