I’m short on retrievable memories from my childhood, but there have been a few memories I thought I might recover if only I could track down certain books. I began by searching out Crockett Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon. That was easy. It’s still in print and still brings back the feeling I had, when drawing pictures from imagination, of whole worlds appearing ex nihilo from a few penciled lines. I suspect that may have planted a seed of interest in the idea of creation.

An even more exciting find was Crockett Johnson’s masterpiece, the Barnaby series he contributed during the 1940s to the left-leaning newspaper PM. While Dr. Seuss was drawing anti-isolationist cartoons for the same newspaper, Johnson chose to render—in his characteristic clean black lines—the inner life of a young child, Barnaby Baxter, whose stable American suburban home is ruffled by air raid drills, scrap metal drives, rationing, and other intimations of a world under siege. Barnaby is a practical boy, but he needs adventure as much as reassurance; and both needs are met by a slightly disreputable fairy godfather, Mr. O’Malley, whose magic wand is a Havana cigar, whose favorite expression is “Cushlamochree!” and whose compatriots include an invisible leprechaun and a timid ghost. Barnaby’s parents, as well as the orthodox Freudian psychologist they consult, are convinced that O’Malley is a compensatory fantasy. But Barnaby—and we—know better; and I was the better for seeing how matter-of-fact one can be when faced with challenges to faith.

Then there was the Little Golden Book whose title I had misremembered as Crispin’s Crispian: The Dog Who Loved Strawberries. In fact, it was the last book produced by Margaret Wise Brown (of Goodnight Moon fame), under the title Mister Dog. One has to look within to discover that its subject is Crispin’s Crispian—a dog so named because he belongs to himself—who has a liking for strawberries and for a well-ordered life. I’m pretty sure I loved that book because I was an only child, belonging (so I thought) to myself. And when a little boy, who also belongs to himself, ends up moving in with Crispin’s Crispian because they understand each other so well, the implication is clear: one can have solitude without isolation, and tranquillity in fellowship.