I loved this book. It’s hilarious; the crayon-style drawings by Oliver Jeffers are great; and there are welcome messages about protesting over poor working conditions and examining feelings from someone else’s point of view.
This is actually an epistolary book for kids, which is another fun aspect of the story. One day when Duncan goes to color, instead of crayons in the box he finds a stack of letters of complaint written by a number of the crayons.
The pink crayon feels it is underused, especially compared to the coloring habits of Duncan’s little sister; the gray crayon gets tired after filling in the lines of big animals like rhinos, hippos and whales; the green crayon is happy except for the infighting between the yellow and orange crayons over which one should be the color of the sun, and so on. They sign their names in various ways: your very neat friend; your very tired friend; your pal and the true color of the sun; etc.
In the end, Duncan wants to make his crayons happy, so he makes a picture for school that takes into account many of the crayons complaints, resulting in a creative picture with an orange whale, a black rainbow, and a pink airplane, inter alia.
The humorous collage-style illustrations by Oliver Jeffers couldn’t be better. The letters from the crayons are rendered in a whimsical font on scraps of paper, and the colored objects the crayons use to demonstrate their points either appear as if they are on coloring book pages or just fill in the white space across the pages. All of the pictures look as if they were colored by a kid.
Discussion: I thought the content of the letters was beyond clever. There are so many wonderful and interesting messages conveyed in the letters from the crayons, all of which have to do with thinking outside of the box.
I was just a bit taken aback a bit by the complaint of the peach crayon. Some readers may not know that in 1962, in response to a great outcry that was part of the Civil Rights movement, Crayola changed the name of that color to “peach” from “flesh.” The peach crayon complains because its wrapping has been peeled off and it feels “naked.” On some level, my reaction was to draw a connection between the plaint of the peach crayon with a statement about body tones. That is no doubt because of my hyper-awareness of the representational issues that led to the change from “flesh” in the first place, but it would have been nice if the problem ascribed to the peach crayon had affected the brown crayon instead. The brown crayon doesn’t even appear, except in a reference made by the beige crayon. It was the only aspect of this book that affected my otherwise enraptured response.
Evaluation: This book combines an ingenious concept with outstanding artistic interpretation and exceptional wit. Both kids and adults will giggle their way through this story, which offers some important messages in addition to being just a lot of fun.
Published by Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2013