Joseph Krumgold Essay - Critical Essays

Krumgold, Joseph


Joseph Krumgold 1908–

American novelist, filmmaker, screenwriter, director, and producer. Krumgold's young adult novels … And Now Miguel, Onion John, and Henry 3 form a trilogy built around the theme of the awakening of awareness in youth of self, of human nature, and of how to fit into society. These works describe the processes, both internal and external, that turn boys into men, pinpointing in minute detail this time of change. They are set in very different cultures: a tradition-laden rural Mexican community, an American small town, and an American suburb, but show the universality of the maturation experience. Krumgold's works are notable for their strong sense of place, which is developed through the observations of a first-person narrator. These characters are used as reflectors for the world outside themselves. Krumgold's background in film has had a direct influence on his fiction. He uses a cinematic style in his novels, incorporating a stark visual sense and a flair for drama. At the age of twelve, Krumgold decided to devote himself to making movies. He began working for MGM studios in New York, and went to Hollywood as a Chinese dialogue writer for an ill-fated Lon Chaney film. After working on feature films for twelve years, he began concentrating solely on his own documentaries, for which he has won several international awards, including an Academy Award nomination. While in New Mexico, he worked on a film about the world of a shepherd boy, "Miguel Chavez," which served as the model for his first novel for young readers,… And Now Miguel. This book received the 1954 Newbery Award. His second novel, Onion John, was also based on a real character, an East European hobo living in Hope, New Jersey, where Krumgold also lives. This book was given the 1960 Newbery Award, giving Krumgold the distinction of being the first two-time winner of this prize. Krumgold has been criticized for the solidly male concerns of his novels, and for the lack of inclusion of women in his stories except in derogatory terms or in superficial ways. However, his perceptive understanding and realistic depiction of contemporary young people as they grow into adulthood have affected the emotions of many readers. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed., and Something about the Author, Vol. 1.)

Isaac Anderson

If you are fed up with those supermen, the brilliant amateur detectives who are always compelling the reluctant admiration of their rivals on the regular police force, then you should by all means meet Michael Vestry [in "Thanks to Murder"]. Mike is an earnest young man who is convinced, as who is not, that there is something wrong with the world. He believes that the remedy lies in the strict application of scientific principles. What is more, he intends to do something about it. He selects for his first point of attack the crime problem….

As a detective Vestry is a complete flop, but that may be because the cases he chooses to investigate do not come up to the standards of the best detective fiction. Consequently, all his elaborate deduction goes to waste, except in so far as it provides him and others with some extremely exciting moments, to say nothing of bringing about his meeting with a girl who is not a bit like the other girls he has met. The story of Vestry's investigation into the death of the man called Phillips is a most hilarious chronicle of cockeyed sleuthing by an amateur whose chief qualification for the job is a pull with The District Attorney. One begins the story with the impression that Vestry is a mere fool, but one soon learns to like him in spite of his blundering. Unfortunately, the author has so thoroughly put an end to his pretensions as a detective that we are not likely to meet him again in that role. However, Mr. Krumgold may have other tricks up his sleeve, and in the meantime he is to be congratulated upon having produced one of the funniest detective novels in years. (p. 14)

Isaac Anderson, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1935 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission). May 26, 1935.

Claire Huchet Bishop

Miguel Chavez lives in New Mexico. From time immemorial the Chavez have raised sheep. Every year the men take the sheep to graze on the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Miguel, who is twelve, has a secret wish: to go with the men and the sheep to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Such is the theme of "… And Now Miguel" which develops into a beautiful symphony where everything enters: factual and detailed information on sheep raising, on the family life of those of Spanish descent, on the heart yearnings of a boy, and some simple dialogues which tackle the problem of human destiny. Miguel himself tells the story and he does not use any word that a boy of his age could not use. What comes out is a tale of grandeur, tenderness, and sheer beauty….

This is a distinguished, unforgettable book…. (p. 62)

Claire Huchet Bishop, in The Saturday Review (Entire issue copyright 1953 by Saturday Review Associates, Inc.; reprinted with permission). November 14, 1953.

Marjorie Fisher

The style [of "… And Now Miguel"] is sometimes genuinely simple and primitive, though at times with the sentences flattening to pools, there is a suggestion that Miguel has been reading Ernest Hemingway instead of minding sheep.

Marjorie Fisher, "Shepherd," in The New York Times Book Review, Part II (© 1953 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 15, 1953, p. 28.

Virginia Haviland

There is a rare closeness to life in [… and Now Miguel,] this poetic telling by the boy Miguel of his yearning to grow up, to join the men of his family taking sheep for summer pasturing into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Beauty, simple dignity, and humor are in the boyish words that share his innermost plans and secrets and describe the progression of life in the flock. Miguel is twelve and he understands sheep with unique insight…. A young reader will not forget Miguel's searching spirit and the challenge, the fun and the fervor of his twelfth year, concluded by his realization of a great moment on the mountain. The Taos country, the members of his large family, and the way of the sheep-raisers are well shown…. (p. 456)

Virginia Haviland, in The Horn Book Magazine (copyrighted, 1953, by The Horn Book. Inc., Boston), December, 1953.

Pamela Marsh

"Onion John" is as different from most children's books as Onion John is different from the man next door. Instead of cardboard-thin characters cut to fit the plot, the story grows out of the actions and reactions of people too real to be forgotten when the book is closed. Packed with humor, odd information (why witches ride broomsticks), descriptions that never burden the action, and warmth, it will appeal to the more sensitive 10-14's. And to most adults. (p. 5B)

Pamela Marsh, in The Christian Science Monitor, (reprinted by permission from The Christian Science Monitor; © 1959 The Christian Science Publishing Society: all rights reserved), November 5, 1959....

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Virginia Haviland

Mr. Krumgold has created another penetrating picture of a boy growing up. The interrelationships of his new characters—the boy Andy and his adult friend Onion John and Andy's father—become as important as those in … And Now Miguel. The story [of Onion John] emerges from the point of view of the twelve-year-old boy and centers on him and Onion John, who is a squatter of sorts on two garden acres allowed him in a New Jersey town…. Written with extraordinary perception, humor, and vivid turn of speech, in the language of Andy who tells the story, the book has a lingering effect on the reader. It has depths that mean interest on more than one level and is particularly recommended for adults and...

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Ellen Lewis Buell

Ever since Huck Finn and Jim rafted down the Mississippi a popular theme among writers has been the friendship of a boy with a philosophic man, who may be an eccentric, an outcast or a recluse. It is a rare relationship—not many boys today have the time or the opportunity for one, but in fiction it can still be … a prospective theme….

The title character in Joseph Krumgold's "Onion John" is a robustly individual soul, a small-town handyman who uses the town dump as his supermarket, has four bathtubs in his one-room shack and has, also, a fund of esoteric knowledge irresistible to young boys…. Once 12-year-old Andy … understands Onion John's complicated English the two become best friends,...

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Carolyn Horovitz

Onion John does not appear to me to be a work for children but instead, a "teaching" story, a parable, aimed at parents. Onion John, in spite of minute description, is a personification of an abstraction. Except for what he does in an accidental way, the boy who narrates the story is really not involved as an active participant; it is his father's struggle that is central and resolved at the moment of climax. (pp. 160-61)

Carolyn Horovitz, in Newbery and Caldecott Medal Books: 1956–1965, edited by Lee Kingman (copyright © 1965 by The Horn Book, Inc., Boston), Horn Book, 1965 (and reprinted by Horn Book, 1966).

Mr. Krumgold...

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Zena Sutherland

[Henry 3] is a thoughtful and perceptive book, well written but just a bit slow of pace. Although the characterization is excellent, the story doesn't quite achieve the impact of Mr. Krumgold's two Newbery Award books. (p. 49)

Zena Sutherland, in Saturday Review (© 1967 by Saturday Review, Inc.; reprinted with permission), September 16, 1967.

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Jean Fritz

Crestview [in "Henry 3"] is the Establishment; it is Suburbia, the perfect backdrop for a man like Henry Lovering's father, ripe for a vice-presidency. Crestview is a place where survival itself depends on cultivating the right people. This, as it turns out, does not include Fletcher Larkin and his father….

Although Henry has a great time as a member of the most in-group, eventually he comes to see the phoniness…. And what can a young man do at the end of such a book? There is no place to go since Crestview is not an isolated community; it is every community. About all Henry can do is to leave the future open.

Unfortunately the story and characterization are not wholly...

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Houston L. Maples

In Henry 3 Joseph Krumgold continues the dialogue between the generations which he has explored with such sensitivity and insight in his previous works. Once again he presents us with a boy on the verge of the adult world, torn between affection for his parents and the need to establish his own values…. Mr. Krumgold's style is beautiful in its suppleness, economy and nuance, his story rich in variety of character and incident; yet one will look in vain for that undercurrent of poetic identification with rural or village scene which illuminated And Now Miguel or Onion John. Crestview, by contrast, is a dismal and disturbing manifestation of spiritual poverty and cold-blooded opportunism, the...

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Ethel L. Heins

With his keen intelligence and a boy's clear, uncluttered vision, Henry began to penetrate the apparent hypocrisy of the world of adults [in Henry 3]. Only in a time of crisis when a hurricane brought tragedy and destruction to the town, did Henry glimpse the nobility and truth in people. His encounter with life—his first realization of human strengths and weaknesses—was the beginning of maturity. Henry's story makes a long, thoughtful book which speaks directly to young people with far more vitality, immediacy, and compassion than either of the author's two Newbery Medal books. (p. 71)

Ethel L. Heins, in The Horn Book Magazine (copyright © 1968 by The Horn...

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Joseph Krumgold

[Running] into fairy tales is a familiar professional predicament of mine. It happened with each of the three books that make up the trilogy I've written on how we grow up. In each case, I started out to write a thoroughly realistic story of how a child turns adult in one of three different areas of our society. In each case, I found I was writing, by the time I got halfway through the book, simply a new variation of a well-known fairy tale….

[In … and now Miguel] the fairy tale was the story of the Three Wishes, totally appropriate to a boy who grows up in a tradition-bound religious society. He must learn that the rewards of maturity come through believing in a wisdom far more universal...

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When Andy discovers he has an ability to communicate with an immigrant town bum, Onion John, he transfers his loyalty and resents his father's interference with the superstitions and rituals of Onion John. He is hurt by the way his father and the townspeople try to change Onion John into a "proper citizen" by building an acceptable home for him. Finally, Andy is freed from his father's dominance and the superstition of Onion John. Each of these men contributes to Andy's growing independence. The closing scene is a beautifully written description of the communication of a father and son through gesture and smiles. (p. 223)

Charlotte S. Huck and Doris Young Kuhn, in...

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May Hill Arbuthnot

[… And Now Miguel], set in the sheepherding country of New Mexico, is one of the great books for children…. Miguel's goal is special—to become an expert sheepherder like the rest of the men in his family. But his problem is a universal one for twelve-year-olds…. The boy struggles to fulfill competently all the tasks of sheepherding that come his way, but he feels that he fails more frequently than he succeeds. He always measures himself by adult standards, and there is no part of the four-hundred-year-old skills in sheep care and breeding that Miguel does not love and strive to learn. This is a remarkable story on many counts—deep family love, pride in the family skills and work, passionate desire for...

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Ruth Hill Viguers

Joseph Krumgold's three books, different in settings, characters, mood, and style are, nevertheless, related. They make up, in a sense, a trilogy having for its basic theme the problems of adolescence: of understanding the loved and imperfect people around one and being respected by them as a mature person, of accepting the world of people with widely divergent views and attitudes, and of recognizing the values fundamental to the wholeness of one's personality and life….

Mr. Krumgold received the Newbery Medal for each of his first two books. Henry 3 is even stronger in the development of the theme and characterizations, and more absorbing and exciting in plot. (p. 594)


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Eleanor Cameron

In extended imagery, Krumgold gives us in Henry 3 the following inscape about losing, about the sensation of knowing you're losing, and here … the rhythm of these lines, their very flow, is an inherent part of Krumgold's meaning. (These lines, too, are a fine example of how a novel can be written in the first person, the person here being a thirteen-year-old boy, can reflect the disciplined and sensitive style of the author himself, and yet sound perfectly natural and unliterary, in the pejorative sense of the word "literary.")

… losing became a part of whatever went on. There's even a color to losing. It's brown, like the one dead leaf on a full green tree is brown,...

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Diane Gersoni Stavn

[Joseph Krumgold] uses … state-of-the-sexes observations to "explain" the sad state of modern society. His … And Now Miguel, a capably written book, concerns a farmdwelling family and particularly the next to the youngest son. Miguel's mother and sisters seem to exist only because the author assumed the men of the family would have to come into contact with women sometimes. They're alluded to primarily in terms of their familial roles: e.g., Miguel wonders "'… what there could be for supper.'"… Given the farm setting, such role delineation is realistic enough. Krumgold begins to slide with Onion John, a dull book that touts the glories of rugged individualism by focusing on the antics of a...

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[… And Now Miguel] written in the first person, may have to be introduced to children, but it is well worth the time and effort. Here are strong family love and loyalty with a profound respect for the family tradition of work, and here is pride in the expert performance of that work. Here too is the hero worship of a younger for an older brother. There is a feeling for the cycle of the seasons, each one bringing its special work and special satisfactions. And finally there is a closeness to God that makes prayer a natural part of life. (p. 458)

May Hill Arbuthnot and Zena Sutherland, in their Children and Books (copyright © 1947, 1957, 1964, 1972 by Scott,...

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