Monday, August 19, 2013

THE DAY THE CRAYONS QUIT (PICTURE BOOK)

PICTURE BOOK
THE DAY THE CRAYONS QUIT by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers (Philomel)


Duncan receives a series of letters from disgruntled crayons.  Red crayon feels overworked, even doing the lion's share on holidays (Valentine's Day hearts and Santa suits), and blue needs a break from coloring-in entire oceans.  A slightly OCD purple crayon requests that Duncan colors inside the lines (for a change).  Some crayons feel like they are not meeting their full potential:  grey can do more detailed jobs, not just elephants and humpback whales; black is good for more than outlines; yellow and orange have an ongoing conflict over the color of the sun; pink has a grievance about gender bias (ever hear of a pink dinosaur, already?!) and peach doesn't appreciate being peeled.  Green remains calm and satisfied ("I...wish to congratulate you on a very successful 'coloring things green' career so far").  Like any good leader, Duncan takes all feedback into consideration, and the story culminates in a vibrant double-page spread in which all the hues get their dues.

Image courtesy of The Cozy Little Book Journal
This book seems geared toward the classroom.  Naturally, one leans toward comparisons of this book to the successful proletariat uprising of Doreen Cronin's CLICK, CLACK, MOO: COWS THAT TYPE, and this title also finds a comfortable company in the cubbyhole of books written in letter/correspondence form (a la Mark Teague's popular lengthy picture book LARUE series), though personally, its zany, bantering voice and sense of fun is a closer cousin in spirit to Laurie Keller's THE SCRAMBLED STATES OF AMERICA. Jeffers' illustrations are simple and scribbly, representing the unseen Duncan's artistic zeal and a nice accompaniment to the handwritten letters on opposite pages.  While letter-writing and persuasive writing models are both very valuable content for teachers, the voices in this book at times practically holler for a home-made reader's theater, complete with construction-paper cones hats to identify the crayons.  Also not to be overlooked is the V.I.P. (very important potential) for teaching P.O.V. (point of view), and children may enjoy writing their own letters or replies from the vantage of crayons or other inanimate objects, either merry or misanthropic.  This title has come under some scrutiny for characteristics attributed to the colors; again, a teachable moment to which children can be major contributors.  Whether analyzing the text, using it as a prompt for writing or a discussion on group dynamics, reconstructing its delivery into literary performance or just enjoying the good humor, its hard not to come away from this creative book one of the sharper crayons in the box. (6 and up)

Also of interest:
MY BLUE IS HAPPY by Jessica Young, illustrated by Catia Chien (Candlewick).  An art teacher friend of mine came to me last spring with a pile of required assessments in which she was supposed to determine if her students correctly corresponded color and mood (i.e. red = angry).  She was chagrined, explaining that response to color was not a thing to be graded, but rather, "different colors meant different things to different people."  If you agree with that statement, this is a good book for you.  For some people, brown may be a plain paper bag.   For others, it is chocolate syrup being squirted on to chocolate ice cream, or a piece of earth waiting to be gardened.  For some, yellow may be "cheery...like the summer sun," but to the little girl in the book, it is "worried/Like a wilting flower/And a butterfly caught in a net."  When I first saw this book, I confess that I thought, "Oh, sighhh, another 'color' book, some knock off of Seuss' MY MANY COLORED DAYS," but I was wrong. Besides being heaven-sent for a bedtime story, a library circle or for a gentle introduction of metaphor in a classroom, this work is oddly subversive (maybe the book creators know it, see the little girl winking on the cover?), and surprisingly evocative, both in its beautiful language and Chien's washy spreads (already a huge fan of this illustrator since she decorated Dashka Slater's THE SEA SERPENT AND ME).   Blue, in this case, is definitely happy, embracing out-of-the-box thinking and the collapse of cliché, this returns proprietary rights to the reaction of color--and the world-- back to individuals, where it arguably belongs.  Sorry, test designers.  (4 and up)

This post is dedicated to the Chicago Public School art teachers and school librarians who were displaced/lost their jobs this year.  Thank you, your work is still so very important.  Trust you will find your place in the world of working with children again and soon.  Thank you to everyone who supports the arts and literacy in the public schools. 

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2 comments:

Geralyn Adams said...

Thanks for sharing these. I can definitely see The Day the Crayons Quit as being an encouragement for readers to get out their own crayons and explore the artist within :)

danielle said...

These are two I cannot wait to check out!!

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