Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, January 22, 2015

On The Inside

Labels are helpful when wanting to know the ingredients in a particular food product, how often to take a specific medicine, or the needed number of applications for a foolproof fertilizer for the lawn and garden.  These labels are designed to inform and protect. When labels are given to people rather than things their value diminishes.

Even if the label for someone is good, it might tend to stop us from truly knowing them.  If we are told over and over we are one thing, it might be hard to uncover who we are and how best to use our gifts.  Red: A Crayon's Story (Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, February 3, 2015) written and illustrated by Michael Hall follows a crayon's journey to self-discovery.

He was red

So says pencil, chief narrator of this tale.  For reasons obvious to the reader or listener Red lacks the ability to be as the paper wrap suggests he should be.  Everything he draws is blue.

His teacher believes practice is the answer.  His strawberries look like weird-shaped blueberries.  His mother tries her best by encouraging Red to mix with others like Yellow.  She is hoping to see a nice orange orange.  It's not quite ripe yet.

Silver and Gray, Red's grandparents, make him a gift of a scarf to ward off the chill they are certain he is feeling.  It's going to take more than apparel to make this crayon red.  It seems every crayon in the box has an opinion but nothing seems to work.  Even when other members of the art table, tape, scissors and a sharpener, get involved the result is the same.  What Red reads is not what Red sees.

But...on a very special day, a day Red will always remember, a new pal in the pack, Berry, asks Red to color the ocean beneath the boat.  Red denies he can do it because he is red after all but with Berry's encouragement Red draws wavy water.  And it's blue.  And it's easy for Red to do!

Red can't stop now; everything he creates is correctly colored.  Pencil and the box crowd change their words as fast as a finger snap.  His teacher finally understands uttering a prophetic truth.

With those first three words Michael Hall captures our undivided attention; conflicting with the image seen, a bright blue crayon wrapped in a Red crayon label.  With nearly all the narrative phrases he includes comments from another crayon or group of crayons adding an emotional layer to his story.  These candid observations readily define their personalities.  Here is a sample combination.

His mother thought he needed
to mix with other colors.

Why don't
you two
go out
and draw
a nice,

A really
big one. (Yellow)

A really
one! (Red)

Opening the dust jacket of the F & G the solid blue on the front carries across to the left and extends into each flap.  The comments of the orange and yellow crayons at the bottom on the front announce the contrast between the color and the color tag.  On the back the berry and purple crayons make comments foreshadowing the story's outcome.  The blue used in Red on the front is used again on the title page.  A stark white background provides a canvas for the pencil's words

As told by me!

 written in gray on black paper taped to the page.  In the lower left corner a portion of scissors can be seen near scraps of black paper.  This is clearly a story told by items of interest to artists.

The illustrations are placed on either a black or white background with lots of empty space drawing readers' eyes toward the individual elements and the text.  All drawings made by Red, Scarlet, Yellow, the other students in class, and Berry look as if they have been drawn using crayons.  Simple but purposeful in layout, the perspective does not shift except at the explicit turning point.

One of my favorite illustrations is for the phrase

But he didn't catch on.

Green draws a

Green frog!

Black draws a

Black sheep!

 Brown draws a

Brown cow! 

Red draws an ant that is blue.  For his text we read...


If you've ever felt like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole, Red:  A Crayon's Story written and illustrated by Michael Hall is a perfect pick.  It's a story highlighting the journey necessary to find your true self.  It's about that one person who might help you make the discovery.  This is a story when shared will be appreciated by any age.  Wonderful!

If you are interested in learning about Michael Hall and his other work please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  This link takes you to the book trailer reveal by author, New York Public Library's Youth Materials Collection Specialist and blogger at A Fuse #8 Production, Elizabeth Bird.  Here is a link to 7 Reasons Why Your Child's Bookshelf Needs RED courtesy of the publisher.  My posts for his other titles, Perfect Square and It's An Orange Aardvark can be read by following the links.