What is harold and the purple crayon about

Harold and the Purple Crayon - Teaching Children Philosophy

by Crockett Johnson

FILTERS: mind, reality, grade-1-2, prek-k

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Questions for Philosophical Discussion »


Harold and the Purple Crayon examines a number of difficult questions about the nature of reality.

Harold thinks it over for some time and decides to go for a walk in the moonlight. This may seem unremarkable, but it is not. There is no moon. There is nothing to walk on. There is nowhere to go. The only things that are real are Harold and the purple crayon.

Read aloud video by Harper Kids

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

The overarching theme of Harold and the Purple Crayon is deciphering reality. As a rather ambiguous idea, the discussion of “reality” will throw the children into a fun and active topsy-turvy discussion of what it means to be real, and how one gives objects the power of reality. In a world represented by a blank page, Harold is free to draw his surroundings with his big purple crayon. Is Harold playing make-believe? Is that different from what is real? The questions in this set revolve around the children’s perception of reality. Harold interacts with his drawings in a very “real” way.

The first question in this set addresses a secondary character that follows Harold throughout the story: the moon. The idea of the moon as a constant in the night sky is one children tend to agree with. What complicates this situation, however, is the fact that when the moon is absent in Harold’s world, he draws it with his purple crayon above him in the “sky”. This is left the children to question the validity or reality of Harold’s world. If Harold can draw a moon in the sky, it seems that he could not possibly be existing in the “real” world. And furthermore, he must simply be pretending because, as the children may point out, no one could draw a “real” moon in the sky. Or could they? What makes the moon we observe any more “real” than Harold’s moon? This line of questioning leads the children to discuss the relationship between perception and reality. Must things be experiential in order to be real? Or can they exist simply in our minds? In philosophical study, this may seem similar to the debate of the empiricists versus the rationalists. Rationalists like Descartes tended to believe that the reality of objects was in our ability to rationally understand them. At the same time, empiricists like Locke felt that the interaction with objects in a physical way gave them a sense of universal reality. Obviously, the children will not be familiar with this philosophical distinction, but through the debate and discussion over the reality of Harold’s objects, they can come to know the issues involved.

The second and third question sets revolve around Harold’s experience. As the questions in the second set indicate, Harold seems to be in danger during part of the story; he may even be afraid of the objects he draws. For some of the students, this may indicate a level of reality that is not at first apparent. To have feelings, either sensory or emotional, about an object indicates that the object holds some form of power over its observer. This power is translated to designate a level of “reality” as compared to the surrounding world. Then the task is outlining the differences or definitions that make something real. These qualities in Harold’s drawings further blur the line between what is presumably the “real” world outside of the story. When Harold falls from the hill that he climbs, and when he stumbles into the ocean, he has drawn, it seems as though his life is seriously in danger. This fear is a form of power Harold has passively given to his drawings.

On the other hand, one may question if that gives the ocean or the rock the physical reality to harm Harold. Physical reality and the scientific properties therein sometimes indicate a kind of absolute reality that is independent of Harold. The children can then begin to explore the idea how we know whether objects continue to exist when no one is there to observe them. The physical properties, such as atoms and molecules seem to give objects a sense of absolute reality. However, the majority of people will never see a tree at a purely molecular level; they will see a tree as brown bark and green leaves, using subjective measurements that exist within each individual. The students will then be able to draw their own connections about whether believing in something or fearing it gives it reality for the observer and consequently an absolute reality independent of the observer.

In the third question set, the conclusions from the second set can be reevaluated. Although the emotions or physical danger that Harold may experience as “real”, where do they exist? In this stage, the children can begin to question the idea that Harold could be dreaming this entire purple-crayon-created world. If Harold is dreaming all of this, it seems easier to swallow: we as an audience can attribute these “fantasies” to something we know and also experience. However, the next step in the debate is a discussion of the reality of dreams. Are dreams “real” in the way we have previously defined the term (see question set 1)? The students may then choose to reevaluate their definition of “real”.

In the fourth question set, we begin to discuss the idea of Harold as a character in these drawings. If these are Harold’s drawings and they belong to him, could accidents happen within them? In this way the students will continue to discuss and stretch the reality of Harold’s world. The role of ownership is undefined in the story and in the lives of the children themselves. Do people have control over the events that occur in their lives, are they purely accidental, or can they be attributed to another force? The students can describe Harold’s accidents and relate them to their own in a connection that will help them to understand the concept universally.

The fifth question set explores how Harold also is subject to being lost in his own drawing, lost in the world he created. He travels on a long and perilous journey to find his bedroom window, and when he finally does, the audience is left to wonder whether he even needed to walk through the cities of windows to find his own at all. If this crayon gives Harold the power to create his bedroom anywhere, then it is strange that he is so intent on searching for his “real” window. Being so submerged in his own creations might give Harold an ultimate sense of power and reality, but at this point of the story, as Harold frantically searches for his window, he fears that he cannot escape the world he has created. This leads the students to question the world “outside” of Harold’s world. They can compare themselves with Harold and thus apply his story to their own existence.

The final question set asks the children to address an event common to their own lives and understand the role of reality in it. All the children are likely to relate to Harold’s nine-pie picnic, in that they have enjoyed pretending to have a picnic with pretend food. However, in the illustration and description of the book, it is obvious that Harold is drawing the pies in one moment and then has supposedly eaten them in another. This picnic is reminiscent of a make-believe tea party that you throw for you and your stuffed animals to enjoy. In this case, it is a hungry moose and a deserving porcupine that interacts with Harold. For the children who may have previously defined Harold as un-realistic, this is an example intended to make them define their positions. What is going on in this story? Is it make-believe, a dream, reality, or something else? Encouraging the students to back up their beliefs with reasons and evidence will help them to formulate and understand this debate-style dialogue.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

And he set off on his walk, taking his big purple crayon with him. We know that Harold wants to go on a journey under the moonlight, but when he does not see the moon shining, he uses his purple crayon to draw a moon in the sky.

  1. Is the moon that Harold draws the same as the moon we can see in the sky at night?
  2. Which moon is the “real” moon?
  3. What makes it “real”?

When Harold falls into the “ocean” that he draws, do you think his life is in danger? Do you think he could drown?

  1. Do you think Harold is afraid of the ocean?
  2. Does his fear make the drawing more “real”?
  3. Do emotions and beliefs make things real?

The boat seems to save Harold from drowning. Do you think that what is happening to Harold is real?

  1. Are the things happening to Harold in his mind or somewhere else?
  2. Could it be that everything happening to Harold is a dream?
  3. Are dreams real?

When Harold steps over the edge of the mountain, he begins to fall through the air. Do you think that it was an accident?

  1. Did Harold know that was going to happen to him?
  2. Can there be accidents in Harold’s world even if he’s drawing them?
  3. Can you make an accident happen?

If Harold is drawing his own world, why does it take him so long to find his window?

  1. Do you think Harold could get lost in the world he is drawing?
  2. Could he be imagining that he is lost?
  3. What does it mean to be lost?

Harold draws himself a picnic with nine different pies.

  1. Have you ever had an imaginary tea party or an imaginary picnic?
  2. Is that what Harold is doing in the story? Is he playing make-believe?
  3. Or could the events “really” be happening to him?
  4. What’s the difference between “make-believe” and “real”?

Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Claire Bartholome. Edited June 2020 by The Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics.

Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our Resources page.

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7 Facts About 'Harold and the Purple Crayon'

The best children’s books communicate bigger ideas about the world in the guise of something frivolous. Few have done it better than Harold and the Purple Crayon, author Crockett Johnson’s 1955 illustrated book that marries concepts of philosophy with fantasy. The Harold of the title is a child who goes for a moonlit stroll without a moon—he can create his own reality with a giant purple crayon. When trouble arises, like a dragon, Harold can draw his way out of it. At the end, he’s safely in his own bed. Younger kids enjoy the fantastical elements; as they get older, the book’s musings on the nature of reality become more pronounced.

For more on Harold and the Purple Crayon, including its connection to Sharon Stone, keep reading.


Harold and the Purple Crayon author Crockett Johnson was originally a comic strip artist.

The man born David Johnson Leisk on October 20, 1906, who later became famous under his pen name of Crockett Johnson—Crockett being his childhood nickname—first garnered attention for a comic strip. After studying art at Cooper Union and New York University, Johnson took on a series of odd jobs (including working at an ice plant and even playing pro football) before debuting in newspapers in 1942 with Barnaby. The strip featured a tyke named Barnaby Baxter who went on adventures with his “Fairy Godfather,” Mr. O’Malley, who went unseen by other characters. Johnson stopped writing the strip in 1946 but remained on as a story consultant before returning to write and draw the final strip in 1952. That was the same year Johnson published his first children’s book, Who’s Upside Down?


Harold and the Purple Crayon got a cool reception from Crockett's editor.

When Johnson submitted the manuscript to Harold and the Purple Crayon to Harper & Row children’s book editor Ursula Nordstrom, her reaction was tepid. When she wrote back to Johnson in 1954, she attempted to couch the criticism in kindness and said:

“Dear Dave: The dummy [copy] of Harold and the Purple Crayon came this morning, and I've just read it. I don't know what to say about it. It doesn't seem to be a good children's book to me but I'm often wrong—and this post-Children's Book Week Monday finds me dead in the head. I'd probably pass up Tom Sawyer today. Let me keep the dummy a few days, will you?”

Nordstrom later changed her mind and came to agree with audiences. Harold and the Purple Crayon was a success upon its release in 1955 and hasn't been out of print since.

3. Maurice Sendak was more than just a fan of

Harold and the Purple Crayon.

Famed Where the Wild Things Are author Maurice Sendak had long championed Harold and the Purple Crayon, but it wasn’t strictly because he loved the book. Sendak actually apprenticed as an artist under Johnson, even spending weekends with Johnson and wife Ruth Krauss at their home on Long Island Sound in the 1950s. Sendak collaborated with Krauss for several of her books before striking out on his own.

4. Harold became the star of his own series.

The success of Harold and the Purple Crayon led Johnson to make Harold a recurring character. He ultimately appeared in seven of Johnson’s titles, including Harold’s Fairy Tale (1956), Harold’s Trip to the Sky (1957), Harold at the North Pole (1958), Harold’s Circus (1959), A Picture for Harold’s Room (1960), and Harold’s ABC (1963).

5. One edition of

Harold and the Purple Crayon came with a purple crayon.

In the 1960s, Scholastic issued a version of Harold and the Purple Crayon that was a combination book-and-record set. (The record was an audio version of the book with music.) Inside the package was a nice bonus for readers: a purple crayon.

6. The FBI liked to keep tabs on Crockett Johnson.

Johnson, who died in 1975, didn’t lead the low-key life common to a lot of artists. Both he and Krauss were the subjects of FBI monitoring in the 1950s owing to their personal politics. Johnson had been art editor of the Communist publication The New Masses, and though he never publicly aligned himself with Communism, the FBI maintained a file on him and considered him a subversive character. Despite their suspicions, he was never formally confronted with their allegations.


Harold and The Purple Crayon has been adapted in different mediums, including one involving Sharon Stone.

Three of the Harold books were adapted as short animated films, including Harold and the Purple Crayon (1959), A Picture for Harold’s Room (1971), and Harold’s Fairy Tale (1974). The films were later collected into a VHS release in 1993. HBO also produced a 13-episode animated series in 2001 that was narrated by actress Sharon Stone (Basic Instinct).

In 2021, a live-action Harold and the Purple Crayon film was announced as being in development at Sony Pictures, with actor Zachary Levi cast in an as-yet-known role. Previously, both Spike Jonze and Steven Spielberg have tried to adapt it.

Additional Sources: The Crockett Johnson Homepage

Do you love reading? Are you eager to know incredibly interesting facts about novelists and their works? Then pick up our new book, The Curious Reader: A Literary Miscellany of Novels and Novelists, out now!

Purple crayon | Papmambuk

What is this book about

Harold is a little boy who went on a journey through the white paper. He creates his own world with a purple chalk and starts by drawing the moon. Then he creates a world: roads, trees, sea, mountains, magical purple creatures and toothy monsters, a balloon, a boat with a sail, houses with windows, and even a policeman. And everywhere next to him the moon invariably travels.

At first the boy enjoys the adventure, and then he is looking for his home and cannot find it. Only at the end of the book does he remember that at home he always sees this moon from the window. He draws a window around the moon - and finds himself in his room. Now he can go to sleep on the painted bed, because his walk under the moon has come to an end.

Crockett Johnson wrote a book about baby with purple crayon back in 1955, and readers liked it so much that Crockett Johnson published a couple of dozen more books about baby Harold and his crayon. Based on these books, cartoons and serials are shot, performances are staged, and computer games are invented.

Many writers have taken up the idea of ​​using crayons to add to the world around the character. For example, in Anthony Brown's Bear Hunt (1979), a bear draws something with a magic pencil to escape two hunters. In Aaron Becker's Journey, Adventure, and Return trilogy of silent books, a boy and a girl draw doors to a magical world where miracles happen with colorful crayons.

Characters and props

• A long roll of paper, or several white sheets stacked one after the other.

• Violet crayon.

• A small paper figurine of Harold with a chalk in his hand, copied from the book and cut along the outline. If you draw a figure from two sides, Harold can be rotated left and right.

Harold and the Purple Chalk book from which the character will appear Some of the elements can be drawn and cut in advance: balloon cabin, picnic animals, blanket, boat. You can draw and cut out the moon and high-rise buildings with many windows in advance.

How to Tell a Story on Paper

Hide the paper boy between the pages of Harold and the Purple Chalk and lay out the roll of paper. Have your child call Harold or say the magic words. Let Harold appear right out of the book - shake him out on paper and he'll go on a journey.

This story moves in a linear fashion, like a long roll of paper or several white sheets stacked one after the other. While I was training, I was drawing in a regular album, but then I realized that I needed the continuity of the story, and I remembered what can be drawn on a roll - this is how a feeling of landscape, space, linearity of history and time appears.

Some of the elements I drew in advance and cut out: balloon cabin, picnic animals, blanket. The balloon cabin and blanket cover the baby.

So, Harold gets on the white sheet. He draws the moon, and then the road. Thus begins his journey.

Then he goes on and draws a tree. A monster with sharp teeth appears behind the tree, which frightens the boy.

Harold steps back. His hands are trembling - and so the straight line of the road becomes the surface of the sea. The boy cannot swim and is drowning. I completed the story by drawing bubbles in the water and a shark.

Harold is a resourceful boy: he draws a sailboat and then sails on it.

Soon he decides to go ashore and draws an anchor and a line of land.

Harold is hungry, he draws a blanket and plates of pies.

At first he eats everything himself, but then he decides to invite the animals to the picnic. In the book, it is an elk and a porcupine. We invited the previously drawn animals from the fairy tale "Teremok" to a picnic: a fox, a wolf, a mouse and a hare. But you can also draw animals with purple chalk, as required by history.

After eating, Harold continues the line of the landscape and draws a high mountain, which he climbs.

He does not have time to draw the descent from the mountain and falls.

Harold is not discouraged. He holds the world in his hands. In any situation, he remembers that he can draw anything. He draws a balloon.

Cabin painted on the balloon so that the boy could be inside it.

Then Harold sees the house and remembers his house. He looks into all the windows and wonders where his window is.

Then a huge painted city appears. Houses can be drawn in advance and placed on paper. There must be many houses and many windows in the city in order to have the feeling of being lost as a little boy. When we were drawing with Anya, she added light in the windows with a yellow pencil.

Harold remembers that if he is lost, he needs to find a policeman, and draws him. The policeman tells the boy where to look for his house.

He walks forward and suddenly notices the moon. She always travels with him, wherever he is. I drew a new moon in each of the situations, but you can draw a moon in advance that will move with the boy.

Harold realizes that if he wants to be at home, he must see the moon through his window. He does so and ends up in his room.

He draws a bed and goes to bed, covered with a blanket drawn in advance. He puts the purple crayon next to the crib.

Harold had such a trip under the moon.

At Anya's request, parents came to the room to kiss Harold and tell him a bedtime story.

Anya initiated the second color - yellow. They light up the windows in the houses, the moon and the light of the lamp in Harold's room. Later, I proposed to complete the world, and there were stars, a new balloon in which all the animals fit, a green plane, a beautiful ship with wind-blown sails, a tree and an endless space for travel. The child was fascinated and so was I. Anya drew the moon, water, a ship and a hot air balloon for the first time.

Both the plus and the minus of our "occupation" is that there was no definite end, no boundary. I immediately decided that after the fairy tale about Harold, we would still draw the landscape and the continuation on a long roll of paper. It was difficult to stop, and the child played Harold's travels and the beasts until he had had enough.

We really enjoyed drawing this story on a long roll of paper. The conventionality of the image eliminates perfectionism, because in order for the story to develop in an interesting way, you do not need to draw details and waste time on this. But if you take care that the crayon is sharpened, or draw with a pencil, much will turn out better.

There's a lot to learn from this kid. He does not lose heart, holds the management of life in his hands and is able to look at things from a different angle.

Maria Gornova
Photo by the author

Cartoon in English

Harold and purple chalk

Harold and the purple crayon is a 1955 children's book by Crockett Johnson. This is Johnson's most popular book. This has led to a number of other books and has inspired many adaptations.


  • 1 section
  • 2 Book series
  • 3 Adaptations
    • 3. 1 television series
      • 3.1.1 Episodes
    • 3.2 Film
  • 9 [1] A boy who, with his purple crayon, is able to create his own world by simply drawing it.

    Harold wants to take a walk in the moonlight, but there is no moon, so he draws it. He has nowhere to go, so he paves the way. He has many adventures in search of his room, and at the end he draws his house and bed and goes to sleep. [2] as a seven-minute short film in 1959, directed by David Peel and narrated by Norman Rose. [3] [4] In 1971 Gene Deitch directed animation Harold's Room Painting and in 1974 animation Harold's Tale . In 1993, these three animations were packaged into a documentary and sold as Harold and the Purple Crayon and Other Harold Stories set.

    There were also theatrical performances. [5] [6]

    in a couch gag for The Simpsons episode "Bob Next Door" Harold draws the Simpson family's living room during the regular title sequence. Homer also asks Harold to draw him a can of beer after he's done with the living room.

    adapted as an interactive book for the iPad by Studio Trilogy [7]

    In 2019 Jimmy Kimmel Live!0252 TV Series

    In 2002, the stories were adapted by Adelaide Productions into a 13-episode HBO TV series narrated by Sharon Stone and featuring Connor Matheus as the voice of Harold. [8] The series won a Daytime Emmy Award for "Basic Title Design" and was nominated for an Annie Award and a Humanitas Award. [9] [10] The show has also been released on VHS and DVD.

    This show is about Harold using his purple pencil to explore a new world. In each episode, Harold focuses on life lessons during his travels.



    In February 2010, it was reported that Warner Bros. Pictures, Columbia Pictures and Steven Spielberg with Amblin Entertainment are developing a live-action adaptation of Harold and the Purple Crayon . It is produced by Smith and James Lassiter and written by Josh Klausner. [11] In December 2016, it was reported that the film would also be written by Dallas Clayton. [12]


    The book inspired the programmer Petri Purkho to create a computer game Crayon Physics Deluxe , [13] The book potentially inspired the children's TV show The Cretaceous Zone , [14] and is often used in children's lesson plans and art lessons. [15] According to a 2007 online survey, the National Education Association listed this book as one of the "100 Best Children's Books for Teachers". [16] In 2012, it was ranked 16th among the "Top 100 Picture Books" in a survey published by School Library Journal . [17]

    One of the main characters in Captain Underpants, Harold Hutchins is named after the main character in the book, and George Beard is named after the main character in Curious George.

    In It's What They Call Life by author Neil Carlen, Prince Mother Matty Shaw confirmed that his favorite book as a child was Harold and Purple Crayon and was the reason the Prince loved the color purple. Karlen, Neil (October 2, 2020). This thing called Life: A Prince's Odyssey is turned on and off . USA: Macmillan USA. p. 43. ISBN 978-1250135247 .

    In Rob Reiner's 1999 romantic comedy Our Story , Kate (Michelle Pfeiffer) says that Harold and the Purple Chalk is one of her favorite books and an allegory for her marriage to Ben (Bruce Willis). She later explains that Ben simply wouldn't "share chalk" and that she believed she was living in of his world, not the one she helped create. 9 Bird, Elizabeth (July 6, 2012). "Poll Results of the Top 100 Picture Books". Fuse No. 8 Production. Blog. School Library Journal (blog.schoollibraryjournal.com). Archived from the original on December 4, 2012.

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