Sunday, March 9, 2008

Johnny Gruelle

Born December 24, 1880 in Arcola, Illinos
Died January 9, 1938 in Miami Springs, Florida

Johnny Gruelle is a TTMD poster child of the type of author we hope to bring to your attention. If you were to mention Raggedy Ann or Raggedy Andy to most people you would quite likely get a vague confirmation that they had heard the names. Even among the community of people generally interested in children's literature, however, many would not place Johnny Gruelle as the author and illustrator of that distinctly American classic, Raggedy Ann. Not the fate that you would expect for the author of a series of stories that have sold in the millions down through the years, and whose most memorable character, Raggedy, still inspires devotion among an intense group of collectors and readers. This year marks the ninetieth anniversary of the first publication of Raggedy Ann. But let's back up and tell the whole story, for it is an interesting one.

Johnny Gruelle was born Christmas Eve, 1880 in Arcalo, Illinois (home of the Raggedy Ann and Andy Museum). His father, R.B. Gruelle was a landscape artist and portrait painter, later associated with the Hoosier Group of Impressionist artists. One of three children, Johnny and his two siblings (Justin and Prudence) were all encouraged in artistic endeavors through their childhood. Justin became an illustrator and Prudence an author.

Johnny's formal education was somewhat truncated. Instead, he essentially served an artistic apprenticeship at his father's side: there was little formal training per se but rather, much encouragement. Neither R.B. Gruelle nor Johnny Gruelle actually ever received formal training in art, nor did Johnny seek instruction from his father.

Johnny Gruelle showed talent in the area of sketches and cartoons and launched his career as an illustrator when he was nineteen, joining a weekly newspaper, The Indianapolis People, drawing political cartoons. He worked there and at other Indianapolis papers over the next few years including the Indianapolis Sun and the Indianapolis Star. It was while at the Star that the fearsome productivity that characterized all Gruelle's working life became apparent.

Supposedly at the Star, an evening paper, staff cartoonists were tasked with producing their work first thing in the morning. As soon as they had completed their work they were allowed to leave. Gruelle, being a fast worker, basically produced all his work and left by midmorning. As always happens when someone is good at something, this productivity drew negative comment from his fellow cartoonists about the brevity of his hours and his editor asked Gruelle to stick around the offices until the others were done as well.

It was this idle time that diverted Gruelle into writing as a complement to his artistic work. He filled the hours of his confinement by beginning to write articles for the paper. He also began writing short stories for his infant daughter, Marcella, born in 1903.

Joining the Cleveland Press in 1905, Gruelle continued to earn his living through all forms of illustration but also began having articles and stories published in the paper's children's section.

In 1910, Gruelle visited his father who had moved to an artist colony in Connecticut not far from New York City. While visiting, he responded to a national contest run by the storied New York Herald for a comic strip. He in fact submitted two entries; one was entered under a pseudonym. His first entry was based on an elfish character he had created, Mr. Twee Deedle. With this entry, he won first prize. His other entry took second place. Following this win, Gruelle joined the Herald producing the Mr. Twee Deedle comic strip.

Gruelle and family moved east, settling in Connecticut near his father. It was at this time that Gruelle began to branch out beyond newspaper journalism and began producing illustrations and comic strips for the rich panoply of magazines serving the reading public in the 1910s and 1920s. In time he was to regularly produce work for a broad range of magazines ecompassing such titles as Good Housekeeping, Life, College Humor, Judge, Woman's World, John Martin's Book, McCall's, Physical Culture, Illustrated Sunday Magazine, and The Ladies World.

It was while at the Herald (where he stayed till 1921) that Gruelle became a published author with his first collection of comic strips completed in book form as Mr. Twee Deedle in 1913. More significantly in 1914, he produced a volume called The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, retold by Margaret Hunt and richly illustrated by Gruelle. The Complete Fairy Tales was a significant hit.

The story is told in many different versions but it would appear that it was around this time (1912-1914) that Gruelle's daughter, Marcella, while one day scrounging around her grandmother's attic, discovered a misshapen and well worn doll tucked away in some corner. It would appear that the doll was her grandmother's from her childhood. Marcella brought it to Gruelle who tidied it up a bit, painted on a new smile, put on some shiny black button eyes and a red triangle nose. Grandmother sewed a new dress. Raggedy Ann was born and became a constant companion of Marcella.

Gruelle apparently suggested the name of Raggedy Ann for the newly rediscovered doll based on a couple of poems by the poet James Witcomb Riley (who had been a friend of his father's), The Raggedy Man and Little Orphan Annie. He made up stories about Raggedy Ann to tell Marcella who was in poor health. Presciently he applied and received a design patent for the Raggedy Ann image with which we are all familiar.

Tragically, in 1917 in her early teens, Gruelle's daughter Marcella died from an infection contracted through a vaccination. Gruelle threw himself into capturing the Raggedy Ann stories which Marcella had so loved and in 1918 published Raggedy Ann Stories which became an instant hit. Proving that there is nothing new under the sun, Gruelle and family had decided to help the marketing of the book by making a number of Raggedy Ann dolls and selling those along with the books. The Raggedy Ann dolls were also an instant hit, not only fueling book sales but becoming a significant commercial side-line and establishing a basis for fans to this very day when early Raggedy Ann dolls can command prices in the hundreds and thousands of dollars.

From this point forwards, while he continued with his editorial cartoons, comic strips, etc. (in fact introducing another significant Sunday comic character "Brutus" in 1929), Johnny Gruelle focused the majority of his time and effort on churning out Raggedy Ann stories, later introducing her brother Raggedy Andy.

Raggedy Ann is a child's doll who comes to life, along with all the other dolls in the nursery, whenever there are no people around. She leads them through various doll adventures and traumas but everything always turns out for the best and there is almost always some embedded lesson for a child to take away from the story. There is just enough tension and excitement to grip a young child's attention but always a happy and secure ending. And most reassuringly, Raggedy Ann always has a sunny and cheery disposition.

Gruelle's motto and approach to writing for children was enduringly positive: "It is the Gruelle ideal that books for children should contain nothing to cause fright, suggest fear, glorify mischief, excuse malice or condone cruelty." Much like his contemporary, L.Frank Baum (The Wizard of Oz books), the writing skill reflected in the Raggedy Ann stories is not particularly sophisticated but it has a cadence and directness that has always appealed to children. These stories are great stories for a parent to read to a child. They are heavily illustrated, but there is a lot of text so they are not really early reader type books. By the time a child has mastered reading on his own, the story lines are often too simple to be especially attractive. But from four to ten years of age, these are great books to cuddle up with your kids and read aloud to them all the adventures of what the toys do when no-one is watching.

Gruelle apparently looked on the Raggedy Ann stories a little like a golden goose. He would write and illustrate Raggedy Ann stories and then stash them away in his closet and pull them out as he needed more income. Between the first appearance in 1918 and his death in 1938, Gruelle published seventeen Raggedy Ann and Andy stories (plus a further sixteen children's books not having to do with Raggedy Ann). A further twenty-five or so Raggedy Ann stories were released posthumously from the back of the closet.

The bibliography becomes somewhat murky at this point. One of Gruelle's sons, Worth Gruelle, carried on the family business of writing Raggedy Ann stories and now that some of the titles are out of copyright some publishers are releasing re-illustrated versions.

As was the case with recent Featured Authors L.Frank Baum and L.M. Montgomery who also wrote well-received books stretching into a series, the earlier books tend to be better than the later, though there are favorites scattered throughout the series. Interestingly, and also similar to L.Frank Baum, as popular and firmly rooted as these books are in the reading culture, the author Johnny Gruelle has received (and probably to his benefit) little academic attention. In fact, among the dozen or so textbooks that I most frequently reference, only one had an entry for Johnny Gruelle.

Other connections and parallels abound. It is interesting to compare Johnny Gruelle with Crockett Johnson (of Harold and the Purple Crayon fame) of the next generation who similarly ended up noted by everyone else as a children's author but always viewed himself primarily as an artist. Rachel Field wrote her wonderful story of a doll being handed down through the family, Hitty, Her First Hundred Years, and won the 1930 Newberry Medal. Given the provenance of Raggedy Ann, was there any connection or inspiration from the Raggedy Ann Stories? I can't find any evidence for it but the parallels are close. Likewise, Margery Williams came out with her Velveteen Rabbit in 1922, just four years after Raggedy Ann. No clear connection but lots of parallels. Finally there is the similarity of ethos to that other wonderful Midwestern children's author, Robert McCloskey. McCloskey was also from the next generation of writers and his stories are not framed in the same way as Gruelle's but all of them (Lentil, Homer Price, The Centerburg Tales, etc.) have that same refreshing feel of cleanness, innocence and just plain goodness to them.

Enjoy sharing Raggedy Ann and her stories with your children.

Independent Reader

My Very Own Fairy Stories by Johnny Gruelle Suggested

Raggedy Andy Stories by Johnny Gruelle Highly Recommended

Raggedy Ann Stories by Johnny Gruelle Highly Recommended

The Paper Dragon by Johnny Gruelle Suggested


Mr. Twee Deedle by Johnny Gruelle 1913
Mr. Twee Deedle's Further Adventures by Johnny Gruelle 1914
The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm by Margaret Hunt and illustrated by Johnny Gruelle 1914
The Travels of Timmy Toodles by Johnny Gruelle 1916
My Very Own Fairy Stories by Johnny Gruelle 1917
The Funny Little Book by Johnny Gruelle 1917
Raggedy Ann Stories by Johnny Gruelle 1918
Friendly Fairies by Johnny Gruelle 1919
Sunny Little Stories: The Singing Thread, The Way to Fairyland, Mrs. Goodluck Cricket by Johnny Gruelle 1919
Raggedy Andy Stories: Introducing the Little Rag Brother of Raggedy Ann by Johnny Gruelle 1920
Eddie Elephant by Johnny Gruelle 1921
Orphan Annie Story Book by Johnny Gruelle 1921
Johnny Mouse and the Wishing Stick by Johnny Gruelle 1922
The Magical Land of Noom by Johnny Gruelle 1922
Raggedy Ann and Andy and the Camel with the Wrinkled Knees by Johnny Gruelle 1924
Raggedy Ann and Andy's Sunny Stories by Johnny Gruelle 1925
Raggedy Ann and Andy's Animal Friends by Johnny Gruelle 1925
Raggedy Ann and Andy's Merry Adventures by Johnny Gruelle 1925
Raggedy Ann's Alphabet Book by Johnny Gruelle 1925
Raggedy Ann's Wishing Pebble by Johnny Gruelle 1925
Beloved Belindy by Johnny Gruelle 1926
The Paper Dragon: A Raggedy Ann Adventure by Johnny Gruelle 1926
Wooden Willie by Johnny Gruelle 1927
Raggedy Ann's Magical Wishes by Johnny Gruelle 1928
The Cheery Scarecrow by Johnny Gruelle 1929
Marcella Stories by Johnny Gruelle 1929
A Mother Goose Parade by Johnny Gruelle 1929
Johnny Gruelle's Golden Book by Johnny Gruelle 1929
All about Story Book by Unknown and illustrated by Johnny Gruelle 1929
Raggedy Ann in the Deep, Deep Woods by Johnny Gruelle 1930
Raggedy Ann's Sunny Songs by Johnny Gruelle 1930
Raggedy Ann in Cookie Land by Johnny Gruelle 1931
Raggedy Ann's Lucky Pennies by Johnny Gruelle 1932
Raggedy Ann in the Golden Meadow by Johnny Gruelle 1935
Raggedy Ann and the Left-handed Safety Pin by Johnny Gruelle 1935
Bam Bam Clock by Joseph P. McEvoy and illustrated by Johnny Gruelle 1936
Raggedy Ann's Joyful Songs by Johnny Gruelle 1937
Raggedy Ann in the Magic Book by Johnny Gruelle and illustrated by Worth Gruelle 1939
Raggedy Ann and the Laughing Brook by Johnny Gruelle 1940
Raggedy Ann Helps Grandpa Hoppergrass by Johnny Gruelle 1940
Raggedy Ann in the Garden by Johnny Gruelle 1940
Raggedy Ann and the Hoppy Toad by Johnny Gruelle 1940
Raggedy Ann and the Golden Butterfly by Johnny Gruelle 1940
The Camel with the Wrinkled Knees by Johnny Gruelle 1941
Raggedy Ann Goes Sailing by Johnny Gruelle 1941
Raggedy Ann and Andy and the Nice Fat Policeman by Johnny Gruelle 1942
Raggedy Ann and Betsy Bonnet String by Johnny Gruelle 1943
Raggedy Ann and Andy by Johnny Gruelle and illustrated by Julian Wehr 1944
Raggedy Ann in the Snow White Castle by Johnny Gruelle 1946
Raggedy Ann and the Slippery Slide by Johnny Gruelle and illustrated by Ethel Hays 1947
Raggedy Ann's Mystery by Johnny Gruelle and illustrated by Ethel Hays 1947
Raggedy Ann's Adventure by Johnny Gruelle and illustrated by Ethel Hays 1947
Raggedy Ann at the End of the Rainbow by Johnny Gruelle and illustrated by Ethel Hays 1947
Raggedy Ann's Merriest Christmas by Johnny Gruelle and illustrated by Tom Sinnickson 1952
Raggedy Ann and Marcella's First Day at School by Johnny Gruelle and illustrated by Tom Sinnickson 1952
Raggedy Ann's Surprise by Johnny Gruelle and illustrated by Tom Sinnickson 1953
Raggedy Ann's Tea Party by Johnny Gruelle and illustrated by George and Irma Wilde 1954
Raggedy Ann and the Hobby Horse by Johnny Gruelle 1961
Raggedy Ann and the Wonderful Witch by Johnny Gruelle 1961
Raggedy Ann and the Golden Rings by Johnny Gruelle 1961
Raggedy Ann and the Happy Meadow by Johnny Gruelle 1961
Raggedy Ann and the Kindly Rag Man by Johnny Gruelle and illustrated by John E. Hopper 1975
Raggedy Ann and Andy and Witchie Kissaby by Johnny Gruelle and illustrated by John E. Hopper 1975
More Raggedy Ann and Andy Stories by Johnny Gruelle and illustrated by Johnny Worth and Justin Gruelle 1977
The Raggedy Ann and Andy Storybook by Johnny Gruelle and illustrated by June Goldsborough 1980
The Old Fashioned Raggedy Ann and Andy ABC Book by Robert Kraus 1981
The Little Book of Values: Moral Fables by Laura Elizabeth Howe Richards 1996

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