This fall, HarperCollins will do something the company hasn’t done in 32 years: publish a new book by the late Ruth Krauss, who collaborated with Maurice Sendak on classics like A Hole Is to Dig, and with her husband Crockett Johnson on The Carrot Seed. (Bonus trivia question: What is the title of Krauss’s last book, published in 1987? See answer at the end of this story.)
In what must set a record for the amount of time between acquisition and publication, the new book, Roar Like a Dandelion, arrives in October, with illustrations by Sergio Ruzzier, whose most recent picture book, Fox and Chick: The Party (Chronicle), was just named a Geisel Honor Book. Krauss’s manuscript was first acquired approximately 50 years ago by legendary Harper editor Ursula Nordstrom. The new deal was negotiated by Nancy Inteli, v-p and editorial director of HarperCollins Children’s Books, with Jacqueline Ko of the Wylie Agency representing the Ruth Krauss Foundation, and Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary Agency representing Ruzzier.
“There’s always the worry that works published after an author’s death are not going to be up to their standards, but this [text] reminds me of the playfulness of A Hole Is to Dig,” Inteli said. The manuscript consists of 26 one-line poems, arranged alphabetically and expressed as directives: “Look under the bed for poetry,” the author suggests. “Paint a picture of a cage with an open door and wait.”
Nordstrom acquired the manuscript sometime around 1970 under the title Running, Jumping, ABC. For reasons now lost to history, the book was never published. Inteli believes the company just never found the right illustrator.
Fast forward to 2016 when Stewart Edelstein, who served as Krauss’s lawyer until her death in 1993 and as the executor of her estate thereafter, retired and moved from Connecticut to Stockbridge, Mass. There he worked out an agreement with the Norman Rockwell Museum to house Krauss’s archives, which included a copy of the original manuscript.
“What really strikes me having now seen [a PDF of] the book is that it is so Ruth,” Edelstein said. “It made me smile and laugh at the wondrous creativity and boisterousness of both the words of the poems and the illustrations.”
Inteli said when she [re]acquired the text, she hoped that Ruzzier, who was awarded the prestigious Sendak Fellowship in 2011, would sign on to illustrate. “I immediately thought of Sergio, whose work is reminiscent of Sendak’s but is also imaginative and playful in the same way Ruth’s text is,” Inteli said.
Ruzzier was excited by the offer but initially worried that Krauss’s manuscript might have languished for good reason. “When I finally read it, all my fears dissipated, and I realized her text for Roar Like a Dandelion is as good as her classic books from the 1950s, the ones that Maurice Sendak and Crockett Johnson and Marc Simont illustrated,” he said. “I just hope my work on it will not make them all turn in their graves.”
Editor and illustrator decided to downplay the abecedarian aspects of the text to broaden its appeal. The original title was changed as a result, and Ruzzier had to winnow Krauss’s original manuscript down a bit. “Ruth had a few alternate sentences for some of the letters so Sergio chose the ones that worked best with his spirit and his vision for the book,” Inteli said.
However, unlike Margaret Wise Brown, Krauss’s contemporary at the Bank Street School’s experimental Writers’ Laboratory, there is no cedar trunk of unpublished Krauss manuscripts waiting to be whipped into shape. Roar Like a Dandelion is likely it. “I’ve been through the archives and I did not find anything else that was as publishable as this,” Edelstein said.
Nonetheless, the publication of a new Krauss book is a boon to the foundation Edelstein created in her name. Johnson, best known as the creator of Harold and the Purple Crayon, died in 1975, predeceasing Krauss by nearly two decades. The books they created continue to sell, producing royalties and income from licensing fees. The couple had no children or close relatives. Krauss’s will directed Edelstein to donate monies received from their literary properties to charitable organizations that benefit children.
“Thanks to her, I have been able to provide funding for homeless shelters, food pantries, camp scholarships, educational opportunities for kids, health initiatives for inner-city kids, extracurricular activities for kids, children’s library programs, and much more,” Edelstein said. “The more people who buy this book, the more money I have to donate to organizations that benefit needy kids.”
Not only that, but it has inspired him to look for poetry under his bed. “Every morning,” he said.
Trivia answer: Big and Little, illustrated by Mary Szilagyi (Harper & Row, 1987).