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Crayons — they’re not just for adults


Thursday, October 26, 2017

In my opinion, there is nothing better than a big box of crayons and a good coloring book. In fact, I wrote a column some time ago about the importance of adult coloring books and reviewed three of my favorite ones. But remember, crayons are not just for adults! Kids love them too; and some of my best memories of first grade involve using all those beautiful crayon colors to make my artistic masterpieces.

So, when Cecilia, my 7-year-old source for all great first- and second-grade reading, told me of a book that was all about crayons I knew I had to read it. “The Day the Crayons Quit” by Drew Daywalt is definitely a winner. Ceil scored again!

This is a book that parents will read often to their children, and precocious readers like Ceil will read again and again to themselves. Our main human character is a little lad named Duncan. He loves to color. Alas, when he opens his beloved box of crayons there is not one crayon there. Instead, Duncan finds letters of resignation written by all his crayons. Each crayon has a particular gripe. Red is used too much, and gray echoes the same grievance owing to the number of elephants recently drawn during art class (not to mention the humpback whales!). Yellow and orange are not speaking at all due to a controversy about the real color of the sun, and black is grumbling because it is only used for outlining other stuff. Green is actually happy, but still writing in sympathy and solidarity with yellow and orange. Clearly, things are out of control in the crayon box.

Ceil couldn’t stop laughing! I read the book and neither could I. It is charming, filled with delightful crayons that have distinct personalities, and after it has been read for the hundredth time (Ceil can vouch for this number), parents can help children develop more stories about their own crayons. This is a very good vehicle for teaching formation of characters in stories that children want to write themselves, or reading aloud to a group of children, or just kicking back yourself and pretending you are a kid looking for a fun read.

Of course, you might think Duncan’s trials are over once he has soothed the feelings of all the crayons in the box. The story ended justly with a purple dragon, an orange whale, a pink airplane, a sea of green, and a red elephant. Every crayon was represented fairly and evenly, and Duncan’s teacher gave him an A+ for creativity.

Alas, things are not always as they seem, and Duncan faces a new difficulty when another group of crayons need to be rescued! “The Day the Crayons Came Home” also by Drew Daywalt, is the newest addition to the crayons’ saga.

These new crayons are exotic colors such as maroon, who was broken in half, pea green, named Esteban the Magnificent – which is pretty brave for a color like pea green – and a turquoise crayon with his head stuck to a sock due to a dryer incident that turquoise discussed in great detail. This book is even funnier than the first one. I may be one up on Ceil!

Again, the story ends well. Duncan builds a home for all the crayons and each crayon contributes to the decoration on the outside of their new residence. Although I developed a great fondness for the character of Esteban the Magnificent, I have to say my favorite was the neon red crayon. Something of a wild child, neon red did eventually find her way home to the new box – but with a story to tell. Yes, parents can expand the stories of the crayons and have a joyous time with their children making up crayon characters, more new stories, and drawing pictures to illustrate the crayon’s adventures. I do love a good adventure story, of course with illustrations.

Speaking of making up stories for children, Mark Twain, a.k.a. Samuel Clemens, in a Paris hotel room one night (in 1879 to be more exact) was being pressed by his two little daughters for a good made-up story. Twain had to think fast, something he could do quite easily, and came up with a story about a boy named Johnny, who lives with his grandfather and only has a pet chicken – named Pestilence and Famine – and little else, as he is penniless. You probably guessed that just from the name of the chicken.

The grandfather sends poor Johnny to the market to trade in the chicken for something worth eating – thus breaking the hearts of Johnny and the chicken. However, on the way Johnny meets a kindly blind lady who gives him magic seeds. Those seeds change everything! The seeds grow into flowers that enable him to talk to animals. This is very helpful because Johnny has to go on a quest to save a kidnapped prince. “The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine” is the name of this story and Philip Stead, along with his wife Erin, who illustrated the book, has finished the story by imagining what Twain would have said as he told the tale. The prince, by the way, is a pill. But a lesson is taught in the Twain way. Bravery, kindness and a good heart beat money and power every time.

If you have never heard of this story before don’t be surprised. This is because Twain never finished writing it. All that existed of the story he told his daughters that night was 16 pages of very detailed notes that were found in the Twain papers at the University of California at Berkley. Stead has done a fine job finishing this children’s story and while the age range is suggested as 8 to 12, I have to say that as a Twain-loving adult I really liked the story a lot.

Crayola has recently retired “Dandelion” as a color and introduced, after a highly spirited contest, the new color “Bluetiful.” Yes, it is not a real word. I suggest everyone gets over that hurdle, starts thinking like a kid with an imagination, and adds the new color to the crayon box if for no other reason than to give azure, cerulean, and indigo some relief from coloring in all that sky. Grab a box, draw a picture with a kid, tell a story along the way, and have a good time with words.

Elaine Holden is host of The Holding Hour on WSMN 1590 radio, New Hampshire Director of the National Right to Read Foundation, Director of The Reading Foundation, Senior Lecturer Rivier University Graduate Schools of Education and Psychology.