Homage to Crockett Johnson

Well today I’ve been mostly working on my awakenings.com site, which I am cleaning up and transition to Joola as a content management system for it.  In the process of cleaning up my root directory, I found this orphaned bit I worte some time ago on Crockett Johnson, best known for Harold and the Purple Crayon, but most loved by me (I was probably at least eight years old before I conected the dots and realized the Harold and the Purple Crayon Guy was also the “Blue Ribbon Puppies” guy, although it is intuitively obvious by the illustrations) for “Puppies”.  Since “The Blue Ribbon Puppies” is probably the least known of the three “BLTC Press” inspirational books (the other two being The Little Engine That Could and Stone Soup” (= BLTC PRESS as an anagram), I thought I’d repost it here.  So here goes, here’s my Homage to Crockett Johnson:

Small Puppy
Crockett Johnson is best known as the author/illustrator of Harold and the Purple Crayon, a classic of modern children’s literature. He is also the author (among a number of other children’s books) of The Blue Ribbon Puppies (an illustration from which above).

The Blue Ribbon Puppies is the story of a boy and a girl who want to give a blue ribbon to the best dog out of a pack of puppies. To select him, they proceed to try a blue ribbon on each of them, expecting I suppose to ‘recognize’ the best by how he wears his ribbon. Unfortunately, as each of them is examined in turn, they all prove to have some significant defect: too fat, too long, too tall, too big, too short, too shaggy, too spotty, too plain.

However, when the defect is announced, each puppy stares plaintively at the boy and girl, who respond by declaring each pupy the best fat, the best long, the best tall, etc., puppy. In the end, they all wind up with a puppy, and sit around and admire each other ‘for quite some time.’

When I was three or four years old, living in Rowayton, Connecticut in the late fifties, I lived on Crockett Street. My older brother thought that the cool thing about me living on Crockett Street was that my name was David, Davey Crockett being the hot thing on television at the time. For me, thought, the special thing about living on Crockett Street was that Crockett Johnson lived down the street.

I’m pretty sure I never actually met him, although I have owned since that age an inscribed copy of The Blue Ribbon Puppies, which I liked to think he gave to that ‘cute boy down the street;’ unfortunately, my mother recently disabused me of any such fantasy notion by telling me that she bought it at a book signing Crockett did at the local bookstore.

Notwithstanding, it remains my earliest memory of a book that belonged especially to me, and a special favorite (along with The Little Engine That Could).

Recently, I’ve begun to dream about Crockett Johnson and The Blue Ribbon Puppies.

I re-connected with The Little Engine That Could when I was 22 and went to work for the Platt & Munk Company, who were its publishers. How that happened, and what happened, is mostly another (not super interesting) story. In the short time I was there (before it was bought up by Grosset & Dunlap), I was tasked to ‘write’ three children’s books of my own. Amazingly, one of them was credited using the ‘house pseudonym’ of Watty Piper — ‘author’ of The Little Engine. (This used to impress women tremendoulsy. In 1979, there was a cartoon in the New Yorker of one woman breathlessly telling another: “Imagine! 24 years old, and he already has a pseudonym!” That was about me, honest.) Anyway, it was a pretty crummy book ‘Watty Piper’s Trucks.’ I also did ‘Puppy Pals’ (the Blue Ribbon connection) and also the only one I put my name to, ‘It’s Fun To Wash,’ mostly because the illustration was so good (not by me).

I was editorially involved with a number of projects there, one of which was a re-issue of a slightly sanitized Little Black Sambo, which Platt and Munk had published off and on for years.

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There is a great Crockett Johnson site here.

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