Bob Seeney on Books

The Day the Crayons Quit

January, 2015

There are several things I love about the bargain book tables at the local book shop, especially during the holiday season. First, you can pick up some great titles at greatly reduced prices — well, of course! Second, you can discover new titles and actually hold them in your hands before buying them. Finally, you have a wonderful opportunity to meet like-minded folk. Recently, on one of my frequent trips to a favorite local book shop, I struck up a conversation with another shopper at the bargain table. She was a teacher who insisted that I should use a real jewel on the table for my next review: The Day the Crayons Quit (2013, Philomel Books) by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers. (By the way, I had a recommendation for her, too: the really clever picture book The Book With No Pictures (2014, Dial 1St Edition Books) by B. J. Novak, which just might be reviewed here in the future.)

The Day the Crayons Quit begins when Duncan decides to color. He opens his crayon box, but all he finds is a stack of letters from the crayons. They have gone on strike! Each color has written a letter to deliver its complaint. The grievances run from being over-worked (“I am so short and stubby,”blue says, “I can’t even see over the railing in the crayon box anymore!”) to being under-worked (“Pink is not just a girl’s color, you know!”).
There are other complaints as well. Black, for instance, is tired of being used only to outline other things (“How about a black beach ball some time. Is that too much to ask?”). Beige is depressed, and peach has perhaps the greatest problem of all: Duncan has torn off his wrapping (“Now, I’m NAKED and too embarrassed to leave the crayon box. I don’t even have any underwear! How would you like to go to school naked?”). Then there’s the argument between yellow and orange. They’re no longer talking to each other over what is the true color of the sun. This argument is being mediated by the green crayon, a really pleasant fellow who happens to be happy with his work.

Duncan is in a quandary. When he finally makes a decision, the result is wonderful. The final three pages hold a great conclusion with kudos going to creativity. What a truly fun book this is, with its clever text, its super illustrations, and ultimately its important themes.

Obviously, there’s much more to this book than just a fun and colorful read. (Oops! I did not intend that pun!) It deals with issues of relationships; understanding one’s friends and classmates; and putting one’s self into someone else’s shoes — empathy. All are skills our gifted and 2e students need to learn and to develop.
Many of our students may very well see themselves in some of the crayons’ letters. The skills of these children are often under-used or over-used (Who often does all the work in “cooperative” learning groups?); and certainly the emotional side of the issue will resonate with them.

Duncan’s box of crayons can teach us many lessons if only we read and listen carefully; and that brings us to what may be the most fun task of all: identifying the real meaning — the theme — of each letter. What a fun and challenging classroom activity this could be for students of all ages.

Very highly recommended! Happy Reading!

Bob Seney

Professor Emeritus Bob Seney is retired from teaching in the Masters of Gifted Studies Program at Mississippi University for Women. At conferences, he often presents a session titled “What’s New in Young Adult Literature.” Reach him at bseney@muw.edu.

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