Some book reviews should just be most pages from the book. Such books are so beautiful and soul-stirring that they alone can do justice to what they have to say. Anything else is unnecessary and excessive. Open House For Butterflies by Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak is an example in this category. Yet no true work of art must be set forth without proper introductions.
Open House for Butterflies was written by Ruth Krauss and illustrated by Maurice Sendak.The book was published in 1960. The De Grummond Children’s Literature Collection from The university of Mississippi, informs us:
In the published book, lines of text were printed in small, medium, and big type, or in combinations of the three. When making the typescript from which the printer would prepare the galley, Krauss grouped lines of text together depending on the size of their typeface. She also added some handwritten notes for the printer. The use of different typefaces was intended to allow Krauss and Sendak to “play” with the text of the book.
Krauss Ruth was a voracious reader and a prolific artist as a child. By the time she reached the eighth grade, she quit school to pursue studying the violin and art. She graduated in a B.A. degree from the Parsons School of Fine and Applied Art in New York City and had a keen interest in anthropology. This led her to understand that children quickly absorbed values, especially cultural.
Any values that one sought a child should grow up with must be done early she learnt. Her books aimed at teaching children progressive ideas, as well as the dangers of fascism. With this intent in mind, she went to meet Ursula Nordstrom, the editor at Harper and Brothers.
In the book ‘Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How An Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged The FBI And Transformed Children’s Literature‘ an account of this is given.
When Krauss stepped out of the elevator, she met Nordstrom’s assisstant, Charlotte Zolotov, who was supposed to screen visitors. Zolotov remembered a woman with “disheveled hair” , and an “off-beat” sense of humor and “perspective about life” and obviously ” strong feelings for children”. After a few minutes Zolotov went into Nordstrom’s office and said “You’ve got to see her, you’ve got to see her”. Nordstrom and Krauss then spoke for a long while. After Krauss left, Nordstrom told Zolotov, ” She’s wonderful and she’s going to write a book for us”.
And she did. Carrot seed, A Hole is to Dig, A Very Special House, The Growing Story, I’ll Be You And You Be Me, The Backward Day, The Happy Egg, Bears and Open House For Butterflies.
The illustrator for most of these books was Maurice Sendak. The Sendak/Ruth- or Ruthie as Sendak called Krauss -partnership was a tremendous one. Both of them were innovating children’s literature, one with words, the other with art to come out with books that are considered modern even today.
The pictures and text were done separately but the text came first. Then we would sit on the floor with everything at random and put together the units one at a time. Sometimes a lot of text would get a little picture or else a line would have these extra things that were too good to be wasted, and they became the corner pieces.
From George.R.Bodmer’s Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak’s Early Illustration.
The tiny people that populate Open House for Butterflies are wonderfully detailed, and bring the words to life. Sendak captures the kindness, the independence and matter-of- fact’ness’ of Krauss’s writing.
Open House for Butterflies, paired with the other Krauss/Sendak classic A Hole is to Dig, are twin delights that one can spend hours with.
For children who take their steps through life, and for parents looking for guides and how to walk better with their kids on the aforesaid steps of life, Open House for Butterflies is a wonderful guide.