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Harold and the Purple Crayon

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Book Review: Harold and the Purple Crayon

Written by Crockett Johnson




Textual Elements

Plot Summary

      Harold and the Purple Crayon was written and illustrated by Crockett Johnson.  It was published more than 50 years ago and Johnson went on to write numerous sequels, which were popular as well.  The sequels include books to further Harold's journey such as Harold's Fairy Tale, Harold's Trip to the Sky, Harold's ABC's and Harold at the North Pole. However, none of these are as popular as the original Harold and the Purple Crayon. The children’s fantasy story takes the reader on a journey with just one simple thing, a purple crayon.  Harold and the Purple Crayon is simply written but the book has remained popular for many years.  Harold is a young boy that possess a magical purple crayon, and whatever he draws with the purple crayon comes to life. In this one short and quick read, we see the young toddler, Harold, travel from his home to far away places from the big city to the mountains and high above the moon. He even travels in a sailboat across the ocean, and has a picnic full of pies with a moose and a porcupine. He takes a ride in a hot air balloon and meets a police officer. Readers get to experience an ever-changing scenery in this book through the imagination of the curious Harold and his night with a purple crayon. Through his adventures, he realizes that all he wants to do is find his way home again.  Using his purple crayon to draw objects, he escapes dangers and goes for a fantastical voyage.

     Harold first decides after scribbling on the first few pages to go for a walk at night so he draws the moon and a sidewalk. After veering off his created pathway he ran across a place where he thought a forest should be. Because Harold doesn't want to get lost in the woods he only draws one tree. He then ponders how delicious the apples from the tree would be when ripe and decides that a dragon should sit at the tree's trunk to guard the fruit. The dragon scares Harold and his shaking hand scribbles to draw water. Before he realized it, Harold was already in water deeper than he is tall. The quick thinking toddler draws a boat and climbs aboard. After creating a sail, he travels until he decides to make some land. The sandy beaches ignite Harold's love for picnics, so he creates a blanket and makes his nine favorite pies. A moose and porcupine join Harold to help finish eating the pies before he adventures up a hill. The hill turns into a mountain because Harold decides he would be able to see farther from a higher place. In search of his bedroom window he climbs higher and higher in hope of finding his way back home. He slips and falls off the top of the mountain while looking for his bedroom window. More quick thinking leads to a hot air balloon that carries Harold so he doesn't fall into oblivion. Harold can't see his house so he draws a new one and lands the balloon in the yard. Wandering away from that house still looking for his window, Harold draws more windows and buildings. After he's built an entire city of large buildings, a police officer is kind enough to point him in the direction he was headed anyway. Harold draws hundreds and hundreds of windows that cover the skyscrapers of the many buildings in his city, yet not a single window seems to be the one that belongs to his cozy bedroom. He keeps drawing in search of home. He walks away from the city and it finally hits him, his window was always around the moon. The purple crayon outlines a window with drapes and then a bed for Harold to sleep in and Harold is finally home. After literally making his bed, he draws the covers right up to his chin and with the moon right outside his window the purple crayon drops to the floor and Harold falls asleep. 


Setting: The setting of the book is Harold’s imagination.  He is able to draw things with crayons and make them come to life.  Because of what he creates with his purple crayon, the setting changes from a pathway, to the ocean, to the top of a hill.  The setting of the book constantly appears to always be changing because of the fantasy elements present in the book. However, there is a common theme to the setting presented throughout the story, and that is the moon. Wherever Harold's purple crayon imagination takes him the moon is right there on every page. Harold does not re-draw the moon with every scene but it is because the moon is present on each page that we know we are in Harold's imagination; he never really left the comfort of his bed with the moon shining down through his window. It is a circular plot that begins and ends with the same setting of the moon in his window. 


Characters: This children’s book is unique because it contains only one character.  Harold is this character and with his imagination he creates a dragon, which really isn’t considered a character. He also creates a moose and a porcupine in the picnic scene. In the city, Harold creates a police officer. Even though there are other humans and animals in Harold's adventure, the reader does not learn any more about these subjects except their brief presence in the scene. These 'characters' are considered flat, since they do not add to the story at all, they merely exist as a way to move the plot along. Children’s books usually have more than one character and some even rely on character interaction.




Style: The style of the author is to write simply, so that younger readers can understand what is going on.  “The apples would be very tasty, Harold thought, when they got red” ( Harold and the Purple Crayon 10).  This book is very easy for children to grasp, even with its elements of fantasy.  Each page only consists of one or two of these simple sentences.  Because of the style that Johnson uses, this book can easily be read by elementary students. 

Johnson also uses humor near the end of the book, when Harold is getting ready to go to bed.  “And then Harold made his bed.”  “He got in it and he drew up the covers” (62-63).  This passage of this book shows how he uses the purple crayon to make remarks that children might find humorous.  When he says that Harold drew up his covers, one does not think that he literally drew his covers on top of him.


 Theme: The theme of this book revolves around childhood and the curiosity and lack of understanding that goes along with it.  Harold is like a child in the way that he doesn’t know exactly how things work.  He gets himself into lots of trouble and has to figure out ways of getting out of it.


     Harold’s imagination is the key that opens the creativity that this book holds.  This purple crayon and Harold make a magical team that whisk across every page making their adventure more and more interesting


      The text is simple, possibly Times and Roman font and the words don’t tell beyond the pictures, they simply tell what is going on in the picture.  If the book did not have any words to go along with it, it would probably still be possible to get the general story.  It might take younger children longer to realize he is trying to find his way home, but by the end they should figure it out.  The simplicity of Harold and the Purple Crayon is one reason it has been so popular for the last 50 years.


It can easily be seen as a simplistic book by children and adults who read this for pleasure growing up. However, the book has many implicit meanings and themes that do not come across explicitly from reading this casually. When the reader digs deeper into Harold and the Purple Crayon they will be very surprised. This book has been so popular for so many years, and has survived to see a 50th anniversary special edition, because it inspires and sparks imagination and curiosity in adults and children. Additional themes and topics in this book are dreaming, curiosity, exploring, adventures, and creativity. 







Artistic Elements 

     Many artistic elements are prevalent within Harold and the Purple Crayon.  The pictures usually don’t consist of much detail, and because of this there are large patches of white on most of the pages.  Everything within the book apart from Harold and the text is purple.  This is because the author is trying to emphasize the use of the purple crayon, which is what the book is about.  The color does not come off as overpowering, and one gets used to it rather quickly.  The pictures don’t distract from the text either, even though they don’t add much.  The art work is very cartoonish in nature, as one can see from the illustration below.  This illustration and all the ones in the book, lie just above the text.  Most picture books read this way, so Harold and the Purple Crayon is not unique in this aspect.  Lines in the book are simply used, which makes the drawings as simple as well.  This is meant to represent how a child like Harold would draw at his age.     





Analysis and Critique

     The story gives children a sense of freedom and gives the message to let your mind run wild.  This book encourages children to use their imagination, and think outside the realm of possibility.  While children will realize that things in this book are not possible, they will still wish they were, and think of things that are similar. 

     This book is an example of classic children’s literature.  It has remained popular for many decades and this is because of the imaginative tale that it tells.  Harold is just like many young boys, whose imaginations run wild and who are curious about the world around them.  The simplicity of the book is what makes it so powerful.  As a child reading this you begin to see the power of an active imagination.  You end up wanting to be like Harold; able to have adventures with the simple drawings that you can create.  It’s amazing to think of how such a simple journey, could make for such a popular children’s book.  Once you read through Harold and the Purple Crayon, you will think back to childhood and what you thought of back then. 

      Crockett Johnson’s simple illustrations and text help to make this book what it is.  Children are able to easily follow what is going on, and even adults will enjoy reading this one to their children.  Johnson went on to write more Harold books, that we also popular during the 50’s. I also highly recommend reading these as well, even though none of them are quite on the level of Harold and the Purple Crayon.  To learn more about the author visit: http://www.k-state.edu/english/nelp/purple/biography.html.

     According to Sensational Color, purple has soothing effects on the human body, mentally and physically. When one sees the color purple it tends to calm their mind and nerves while spiritually uplifting them, making them feel better. Stimulating the mind brings out the creative side in people. Purple is used in many symbols all over the world. The US armed forces gives out the Purple Heart to soldiers that have expressed courage and ended up wounded in battle. In Thailand, people wear purple when mourning someone’s death. In Ancient Rome purple was a sign of royalty; their Emperors even wore purple robes. Crockett Johnson used purple for a reason; most likely because of the way it makes him feel. I feel the story would make readers interpret Harold’s creativity in different ways than if it were a red, green, blue, orange or yellow crayon. Different colors evoke very different emotions in society. How different would this book be if it were called Harold and the Red Crayon? It would simply not be the same; people associate red with anger or even romance or love. The use of purple is a vital aspect of this great book that we as readers do not necessarily notice. 


Harold and the Purple Crayon  has even inspired a TV series on the HBO Family network. The full series of 13 episodes is available on DVD to watch, and is called Harold and the Purple Crayon: New Worlds to Explore (Episodes 1-6) and Harold and the Purple Crayon: Let Your Imagination Soar (Episodes 7-13). According to the following review, http://kidstvmovies.about.com/od/haroldandpurplecrayon/fr/haroldpurpcr.htm "Harold and the Purple Crayon fosters creative problem solving and thinking skills. Because of the softer tone and bedtime theme, it is also a good show to put on for those nights when kids are having a hard time winding down for bed." Each episode begins with Harold starting to go to bed and as he drifts off to sleep he ponders many questions and thoughts until his imagination gets the best of him. And his imagination comes to life through his purple crayon. 




Johnson, Crockett.  Harold and the Purple Crayon.  USA: HarperCollins, 1955.

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