There’s something about children’s picture books.
Maybe it’s because the world seems to have gotten so dang complicated; so intense, so polarized, so dangerous, so cold. But children’s picture books have provided a tonic for me lately, and none more so than a lovely new book entitled Red: A Crayon’s Story.
Red is a crayon, fresh out of the box. The problem is, he isn’t very good at red. He tries to draw red things: strawberries, ants, hearts, foxes, but they all come out, well, blue. His teacher tells him that he needs to practice more, but that doesn’t work. His mother believes he needs to mix with other colors, but that doesn’t really help, either. His grandparents think he needs to be warmer, but that doesn’t make any difference at all. The art supplies try to help him, but nothing seems to work.
Eventually the “suggestions” get a little harsher: that he’s not very bright, or that he’s not trying hard enough, or even that he’s lazy. None of them seem to be able to see past his label that names him Red.
Then he meets a new friend, one who asks him to make a blue ocean for his boat. He balks. “I can’t. I’m red.” But his new friend asks him to try, so he does. And low and behold, he makes a lovely ocean, one that he friend declares is perfect. And it was so easy! So Red stops trying to draw strawberries and hearts, and instead, draws blueberries and blue jeans, and they are wonderful! That’s when Red discovers that even though his label says he’s red – and there’s nothing wrong at all with being red – that he’s really blue. It’s the label that was wrong, not him. Once he realizes he’s really blue, then everything falls into place, and everyone agrees that he’s a marvelous blue.
What is so wonderful about this book is that it doesn’t try to equate “red” or “blue” with anything specific in the world. It merely tries to point out that no matter what you are told you should be, that you have to figure out what you really are, and live the life you were truly meant to be. That is a lesson that needs to be available to our kids, and to all of us.
Michael Hall’s illustrations are large and simple and colorful. (He also did My Heart is Like a Zoo and Perfect Square.) The writing is simple and at times silly and for the most part positive, even when Red is struggling. Red: A Crayon’s Story is a lovely, lovely book, with a lovely message, told in a lovely way that will make sense to the youngest among us and resonate with those of us who are far from young.
And it’s definitely my new “go-to” book for youngsters in my life (and maybe a few of those in my life who are young at heart but could use this gentle reinforcement). Simply put, Red: A Crayon’s Story deserves to be in everyone’s library.