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The Carrot Seed

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The Carrot Seed by Ruth Kraus

An Overview

The Carrot Seed, first published in 1945, is a classic children’s picture book. A little boy plants a carrot seed and takes care of it diligently even though each member of his family gives him no hope that it will grow. The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss, with illustrations by Crockett Johnson, is a story with a simple text and simple illustrations but with an encouraging message to be shared with preschoolers through first graders.

The Story

In 1945 most children’s books had a lengthy text, but The Carrot Seed, with a very simple story, has just 101 words. The little boy, without a name, plants a carrot seed and every day he pulls the weeds and waters his seed. The story is set in the garden with his mother, father, and even his big brother telling him, “it won’t come up.”

Young readers will wonder, could they be right? His determined efforts and hard work are rewarded when the tiny seed sprouts leaves above the ground. The final page shows the real prize as the little boy carries his carrot off in a wheelbarrow.

The Illustrations

The illustrations by Crockett Johnson are two dimensional and just as simple as the text, with emphasis on the boy and the carrot seed. The features of the little boy and his family are sketched with single lines: eyes are circles with a dot; ears are two lines; and nose is in profile.
The text is always placed on the left side of the double-page spread with a white background. The illustrations found on the right side are yellow, brown, and white until the carrot appears with tall green leaves and a bright orange color highlighting the prize of perseverance.

Author Ruth Krauss

The author, Ruth Krauss was born in 1901 in Baltimore, Maryland, where she attended the Peabody Institute of Music. She received a bachelor’s degree from the Parsons School of Fine and Applied Art in New York City. Her first book, A Good Man and His Good Wife, was published in 1944, with illustrations by the abstract painter Ad Reinhardt. Eight of the author’s books were illustrated by Maurice Sendak, beginning in 1952 with A Hole Is to Dig.

Maurice Sendak felt fortunate to work with Krauss and considered her to be his mentor and friend. Her book, A Very Special House, which Sendak illustrated, was recognized as a Caldecott Honor Book for its illustrations. In addition to her children’s books, Krauss also wrote verse plays and poetry for adults. Ruth Krauss wrote 34 more books for children, many of them illustrated by her husband, David Johnson Leisk, including The Carrot Seed.

Illustrator Crockett Johnson

David Johnson Leisk borrowed the name “Crockett” from Davy Crockett to distinguish himself from all the other Daves in the neighborhood. He later adopted the name “Crockett Johnson” as a pen name because Leisk was too hard to pronounce. He is perhaps best known for the comic strip Barnaby (1942–1952) and the Harold series of books, beginning with Harold and the Purple Crayon.

My Recommendation

The Carrot Seed is a sweet delightful story that after all these years has remained in print. Award-winning author and illustrator Kevin Henkes, names The Carrot Seed as one of his favorite childhood books. This book pioneers the use of minimal text reflecting the here-and-now of a child’s world. The story can be shared with toddlers who will enjoy the simple illustrations and understand the planting of a seed and waiting and waiting for it to grow.

On a deeper level, early readers can learn lessons of perseverance, hard work, determination, and belief in yourself. There are numerous extension activities that can be developed with this book, such as: telling the story with picture cards placed in a timeline; acting out the story in mime; learning about other vegetables that grow under ground. Of course, the most obvious activity is the planting of a seed. If you’re lucky, your little one will not be content to plant a seed in a paper cup, but will want to use a shovel, sprinkling can...and don’t forget the wheelbarrow. (HarperCollins, 1945. ISBN: 9780060233501)

(Sources: Ruth Krauss Papers, Harold, Barnaby, and Dave: A Biography of Crockett Johnson by Phillip Nel, Crockett Johnson and the Purple Crayon: A Life in Art by Philip Nel, Comic Art 5, Winter 2004)

More Recommended Picture Books, From Your Guide Elizabeth Kennedy

If your child is interested in planting and gardens, see my Top 10 Children's Picture Books About Gardens and Gardening. The picture book And Then It's Spring is for all the young children eager to plant their own gardens.

Other books young children enjoy include Maurice Sendak's best-known classic picture book, Where the Wild Things Are, as well as more recent picture books like Otto the Book Bear by Katie Cleminson and Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons by James Dean and Eric Litwin. Wordless picture books, such as The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney, are fun as you and your child can "read" the pictures and tell the story together.

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