The Day the Crayons Quit. Words by Drew Daywalt. Pictures by Oliver Jeffers. Review by Isla Cunningham.
My first bike was thistle. The metal slide at school was raw umber. My first car was midnight blue. My prom dress was carnation pink. After that, my memories become a little hazy and smeared in grey. Then a book like The Day the Crayons Quit comes along and reminds me how a colorful life feels, smells, and tastes- with crayons. Drew Daywalt’s hilarious tale and Oliver Jeffers‘ childlike morsels brought me back to the crush of gravel beneath my feet, muffled giggles heard through a classroom wall, my mother’s perfume overpowering maple syrup in the morning, and the first nosh of ice cream after chasing the truck down the street. How could I have forgotten?
Duncan is just a regularly wonderful kid, clocking into school yet again. He slides into his usual chair, scoots under the same old table, and reaches for his box of crayons to complete his morning assignment. Only, in their place he finds letters addressed to him. He sifts through them, frantically trying to discover how and why his crayons are gone. One by one, each letter offers justifications and endless complaints.
Red Crayon is exhausted. One too many hulking fire engines and plump Santas have left Red feeling overworked and underappreciated, especially since the demands of Valentine’s Day and Christmas require working on holidays. White Crayon and Black Crayon are tired of being in the background. White Crayon hungers to be more than just filler, more than just snow. Black Crayon is done existing only as outlines and reasons with Duncan, “How about a BLACK beach ball sometime? Is that too much to ask?” And although Purple Crayon applauds the numerous dragons and wizard’s hats, it offends him to his meticulous core when Duncan cannot manage to stay inside the lines.
However, all of the letters aren’t self-serving. Green Crayon praises Duncan for all of his hard work. Yet he still needs Duncan’s help settling a squabble. It seems Yellow Crayon and Orange Crayon aren’t currently speaking because they both feel they are the true color of the sun. “Please settle this soon because they’re driving the rest of us CRAZY!” Green pleads.
After taking into consideration all of their grievances, the ever-optimistic Duncan must figure out how he can appease each and every crayon all while meeting the requirements of the assignment. How will he pull it off? Only readers of this clever book will find out!
As a loyal Oliver Jeffers fan, I anticipated the release of The Day the Crayons Quit for many months. I loved his work. I used to love crayons as a kid. The title lent itself to conflict. Sold. Would my children like it? I didn’t care. I wanted to read it- to myself. When I learned Drew Daywalt had only recently departed from his successful career as a horror film screenwriter in LA, I was unsure horror films and children’s books shared a common denominator, until now. Enter: Drew, now a #1 New York Times bestselling author whose bio line on Twitter asks, “I grew up in a haunted house, reading Dr. Seuss. What do you want from me?”
Playing off his expertise in dialogue, the crayons are authentic. They are disgruntled. They are ornery. They are hilarious. Before I finished reading the first letter from Red Crayon, I was already giggling to myself in the aisle of the bookstore. I had that feeling you get when you read a novel and are suspicious the author already knows you, only Drew knows me as a child. He knows how much I treasured my box of crayons as a little girl much like others would guard a tiara or a pair of their mother’s high heels. He knows I used to organize the crayons by color each time I completed an important work. And he also knows I drew mostly my favorite subjects, over and over again, until certain colors were worn down to the nub.
When illustrator Oliver Jeffers and his family weren’t temporarily escaping the turmoil of Northern Ireland, he resided in and was raised in Belfast. Storytelling was embedded into the culture and, therefore, woven into his blood. Oliver stumbled into picture books in college when he realized his mixture of words and fine art would best be showcased as picture books. He wrote and illustrated his first book, How to Catch a Star, and published it right out of college. It has been translated into over 30 languages. Oliver’s art has earned countless awards and his picture books have graced the New York Times bestseller list several times.
I first fell for his illustrations when Lost and Found leapt off the shelf at me in a used book store. The book found me much like the penguin found the boy in the story, suddenly and undeniably known. Oliver’s pictures are both baffling and thrilling. A simple, black scribble overhead an index-finger-waving Purple Crayon confirms a nervous breakdown is imminent. A tiny wave of Orange Crayon’s hand further taunts Yellow Crayon. His wiry figures and their subtleties of expression do for picture books what the sun does for the seasons. Color me smitten. I love The Day the Crayons Quit. Buy this book for yourself. Read it on a gloomy day. Buy this book for back-to-school, graduations, or just regular days. Use all the voices you can muster for each Crayon-ality and read it to the little ones in your life. Mine, 5 and 3 years old, both laugh on almost every page. Teach them how to remain positive and creative amidst all the noise and demands of the world. And remind yourself that beneath the all-knowing, hardened adult is still a thinker, a creator.
Isla Cunningham is the wife of a firefighter, a mother of two little girls, and a recovering cynic. After loving works such as Little Women, The Secret Garden, and Jane Eyre, she abandoned reading after high school thanks to Homer’s Odyssey. Ten years in the fashion industry produced only the occasional airport terminal book purchase. Most recently, she found her way back to literature through picture books she read to her daughters at bedtime. Isla spends her time dodging critters in the Texas country and discovering new gems at the library when she should be writing. You can find her here http://islacunninghambooks.blogspot.com/ or follow on Twitter and Instagram @IslaBooks.