The Asheville Times reported on November 19, 1950 that “Ruth and Latrobe Carroll, artist and author, respectively, of children’s books…moved to Asheville…and are making their home in the Edgewood Knoll Apartments.” Ruth Carroll graduated from Vassar and studied at the Arts Students League in New York City. Latrobe Carroll was a Harvard graduate and writer for literary magazines. They left New York City for the mountains of Western North Carolina because they wanted to be near nature and near to “natural children.” They had already produced eleven books, all for children. During the next fifteen years, spent in Asheville, they would produce twelve more books, including a series based on Appalachian life. Ruth was the artist for all of their books and Latrobe (known as Toby) was the wordsmith.
The first book written in Asheville was titled Peanut and was the story of the smallest dog in the world and of the biggest dog. Peanut was first read to the first, second, fourth, and fifth grades at Grace School (today Ira B. Jones School) whose students highly approved of the story. The Carrolls used a young man named Johnny Self as the model for the little boy in Peanut and Breck, a Great Dane who was also an Asheville native, was the second model for the big dog Jupiter.
After a number of adventures, Peanut and Jupiter became best pals. Ruth Carroll had a difficult time getting Breck to model for her. He was much more interested in chewing her pencils and erasers and laying his head on her sketch pad. “The sketches were finally made when Breck, worn out with his show of energy, lay down for a short nap.” When the book was published in 1951, it was dedicated to the children of Grace School.
In Beanie, published in 1953, the Carrolls first introduced the Tatum Family who lived in the Great Smokey Mountains of Appalachia, and the youngest son, Beanie, who is given a puppy for his birthday. The puppy soon receives the name Tough Enough and he and Beanie have some brave adventures. The Carrolls often dedicated their books to the children they read to as well as to those individuals who helped them. In two of the Tough Enough series, they dedicated their books to the Alexander family of Cataloochee ranch and to specific librarians, among others.
The Carrolls went on to publish seven books that starred the Tatum family and Tough Enough. These books, generally known as the Tatum Series included Beanie, 1953; Tough Enough, 1954: Tough Enough’s Trip, 1956; Tough Enough’s Pony, 1957; Tough Enough and Sassy, 1958; Tough Enough’s Indians, 1960; and Runaway Pony, Runaway Dog, 1963.
Tough Enough was selected by the American Institute of Graphic Arts for an exhibition in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1955 and Peanut won the 1953 award for children’s literature given by the North Carolina Division of the American Association of University Women. In 1959 the Asheville Art Museum, which was then on Charlotte Street, exhibited Ruth Carroll’s paintings and drawings. By then, the Carrolls had written a total of 22 children’s books.
In 1963 another of the Tatum Family books Runaway Pony, Runaway Dog was chosen by Weekly Reader Children’s Book Club. Through the book club, some 80,000 copies in a special edition were distributed. It was the first book by their publisher, Henry Z. Walck, Inc., to be distributed through the Weekly Reader Children’s Book Club. In 1965 the Carrolls returned to New York City and continued to write children’s books. Latrobe Carroll died in 1996 and Ruth in 1999.
The Carrolls’ books are reflective of their time. They always feature an animal – often a dog – and of course children, and although there may be strife in the middle of the story, happy endings abound. A postscript to this blog is the story of an out-of-town couple who came into the North Carolina Room about a year ago to do some research. At the time there were a group of Ruth Carroll’s drawings exhibited in the room including those of Tough Enough. “Oh,” exclaimed the wife. “As a child, I read all of the Tough Enough books and we even named our dog after him.” They weren’t aware of the Asheville connection and thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition. Clearly Tough Enough and Ruth and Latrobe Carroll’s influence went far beyond their Asheville home.
Post by Lynne Poirier-Wilson, President of the Friends of the North Carolina Room Board and North Carolina Room volunteer.