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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Review of the Day: The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt

DayCrayonsQuit Review of the Day: The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew DaywaltThe Day the Crayons Quit
By Drew Daywalt
Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
Philomel (an imprint of Penguin)
$17.99
ISBN: 978-0-399-25537-3
Ages 4-8
On shelves now.

It is possible to read too much into a picture book. A funny statement since what were talking about is literature for people who haven’t even seen a decade of time pass them by. But historically picture books have been places where prejudices are both intentionally and unintentionally on display. Yet for every Denver by David McKee (a picture book about the beauty of trickle down economics) you’ll find fifty people reading WAY too much into something like Rainbow Fish (Communist propaganda) or Click Clack Moo (inculcating kids into unionism). The thing is, picture books are meant to teach and inform our children. Yet along the way a parent or gatekeeper might be worried about the unintentional messages getting pushed along the way. At the end of the day you have to weigh your reactions carefully. You can’t be pointing fingers left and right, claiming authorial intent where there is none. Okay. So round about now you’re trying to figure out what the heck any of this has to do with The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt. I mean, talk about an innocuous title. Why am I going on and on about unintentional messages in works of children’s fiction in preface to talking about this book? Well, here’s the trouble. I have a major problem with this story and it’s entirely possible that it’s just in my own head. So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to lay out the facts as they stand and you can judge for yourself whether or not this book does indeed make a major you-can’t-do-that-in-the-21st-century mistake, or if I’m simply suffering from a case of Reading Too Much Into It. Either way, it sure makes this Daywalt/Jeffers collaboration into an interesting point of discussion.

Duncan’s your average kid. Not the kind of person who’s going to expect that when he reaches for his crayons at school he is, instead, going to find himself with a bundle of letters. Each letter is from a different crayon voicing their complaints. Says gray, “I know that elephants are gray but that’s a lot of space to color in all by myself.” Or pink saying, “Could you please use me sometime to color the occasional pink dinosaur or monster or cowboy?” Red and blue need a rest, white feels empty, yellow and orange both claim the sun, and all black ever wanted in life was, for once, to color in a rainbow or a beach ball. By the end of the letters Duncan wants to make the crayons happy. And that’s when he comes up with the perfect solution to everybody’s woes.

Now let’s talk crayon history for a bit. This is fun. In 1962 the U.S. Civil Rights Movement was underway. America was going through big changes. Assumptions that had lain dormant for years were finally getting challenged and even crayons were getting a double glance. You see 1962 was the year that Crayola decided to officially change the crayon known as “flesh” to “peach”. You see where I am going with this, I suspect. While white children certainly would use the color as flesh, it wasn’t exactly on the up and up to assume that white was the de facto skin color. Fast forward to 2013 and the publication of The Day the Crayons Quit. Peach does indeed make an appearance in this book and in that section complains vociferously that its wrapper has been removed. “Now I’m NAKED and too embarrassed to leave the crayon box. I don’t even have any underwear!” That Daywalt is linking peach to flesh again is no crime. Interestingly, on the previous page the pink crayon has been making a very different complaint about never being allowed to draw cowboys or dinos or monsters. The monster that it HAS drawn is covering its private parts, obviously believing itself to be naked as well, as the dinosaur points and laughs. So. Pink and peach are clearly equated with flesh tones.

Then what’s the deal with brown?

DayCrayons1 300x254 Review of the Day: The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew DaywaltThere is only one vaguely brownish crayon in this book and it is the much maligned beige. The official brown does not make an appearance it would seem. Beige’s sadness is the fact that while “Brown gets all the bears, ponies and puppies . . . the only things I get are turkey dinners (if I’m lucky) and wheat.”

Mmm hmm.

This is precisely where the difficulty comes into play. How much am I reading into this through my own prejudices? Let me give you a bit of comparison. This year is also seeing the publication of The Black Rabbit by Philippa Leathers. In that particular book a little white rabbit keeps seeing a “scary” big black rabbit that he runs away from. The black rabbit is, in fact, the little rabbit’s own shadow and at the end he comes to love the big black rabbit after all. A librarian recently commented to me that it would have been far preferable if the little rabbit had been brown or some other color. Otherwise you have a book where a white character fears a big black one. At first I was inclined to agree, but after thinking about it I wasn’t so sure. After all, the white rabbit’s fears are entirely in its own head. There’s also the fact that the book, I believe, is originally Australian, so the author wasn’t working with a lot of the codes and keys common in American culture. I was even reminded of the huge brouhaha surrounding The Rabbits’ Wedding by Garth Williams. In 1958 the Alabama state library system removed the book from circulation because it featured a black rabbit and a white rabbit getting married. But sometimes a rabbit is just a rabbit.

So is a crayon just a crayon? I think the difference may lie in what a kid gets out of reading this book. In the case of The Black Rabbit, few kids are going to equate themselves with fluffy bunnies. Even if they do, the black rabbit is ultimately the hero of the story. There’s a bit of a difference with crayons. Kids are constantly coloring themselves and the people they love with the crayons they have on hand. Crayola, knowing this, even released a brand of multicultural crayons of varying brown tones in response to the public’s desire for that very product. So to produce a book where pink and flesh are equated with skin tones and that possibility isn’t even considered with beige or brown makes for a complicated reading. It’s an easy mistake to make if you’re not thinking about it at first, but you would have thought that someone in the course of editing this thing might have brought the point up with Mr. Daywalt. Heck, they might have brought it up with Jeffers too, since he’s the one who came up with the naked monster picture in the first place.

DayCrayons2 300x150 Review of the Day: The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew DaywaltGetting away from brown, beige, and peach crayons entirely, let’s look at the book in terms of its other merits. When I was a kid I definitely ascribed personalities to inanimate objects. Not just dolls and toys, oh no. I could turn a game of War into a long drawn out romantic epic, thanks to the personalities ascribed to various playing cards. And crayons were no exception. Each one had a different part to play. They dealt with jealousies and romances, the whole nine yards. So in that frame of mind, The Day the Crayons Quit speaks to something very real. Kids like to believe that the objects that they play with are as invested in the experience as the kids themselves. So Daywalt has clearly found a unique but necessary niche. If he follows the book up with a story of playing cards we’ll know he’s on the right track.

This is also an epistolary picture book. I don’t know if Daywalt knows this, but a common assignment given by a variety of different elementary school teachers requires kids to read epistolary books (Dear Mrs. LaRue, The Journey of Oliver K. Woodman, etc.). As such, The Day the Crayons Quit is no doubt destined to remain on multiple children’s book lists for decades and decades to come.

Which is a bit of a pity since the book itself is tailor made for an adult readership. Sure, some kids are going to get a real kick out of it. But as I read through the book I kept thinking that were it not for the art of Oliver Jeffers, this title would be a difficult read. After all, it’s pretty much all about the words. Jeffers does what he can to give as much life and vitality as he can to the text, but there are twelve letters in here and around the orange and yellow crayons you’ll be forgiven if your attention starts to wane.

That’s why the success of the book (and success it indeed is) can be ascribed primarily to its illustrator. I began to notice that the childlike style of the art can really, believably be the style of a kid. This is undoubtedly why Jeffers was picked for the project in the first place. Aside from David Shannon it can be difficult to find artists that replicate children’s art styles without coming off as half-cooked. Jeffers has also taken great pains to put in as many small clever details as possible, and it makes for a very rewarding rereading. At first you wouldn’t notice. His Santa on a fire truck is straightforward. The dragon accidentally burning a clump of grapes is cute but for me the book really picks up with (no surprise here) the moment when Jeffers gets to draw a penguin. Even the paper he chooses for each crayon is interesting and significant. Admittedly I was a little surprised that the purple crayon’s letter wasn’t written on lined paper (since it’s such a stickler for staying inside the lines) while the gray crayon’s was. His faux coloring books are fun in and of themselves but it’s the final picture that’s worth it. There are a lot of hat tips to the crayons’ demands to be found here, from black rainbows to white cats. I think the character of Duncan still totally forgot to pay heed to blue’s request, but otherwise it’s on the up and up. You could even ignore that all the humans are drawn with pink or peach or white crayons, if you had half a mind to.

That’s sort of what makes the problems I have with the book such a bummer. There’s really good stuff going on here! Oliver Jeffers is fun to watch no matter what he does and Daywalt has the makings of a fine author for kids. The troubles come when you look at what the book is saying. Fans of a certain stripe are sure to disregard my concerns with a wave of their hand. “She’s reading WAY too much into this”, they might say. Probably. But it seems to me that you cannot write a book about crayons and mention peach and pink as naked without acknowledging that not every kid in the world thinks of those colors as a flesh tones. I mean, that’s just obvious. Here’s beige again: “I am BEIGE and I am proud.” Beige power, eh? Come on, little crayon. Time for you to think outside the box.

On shelves now.

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Elizabeth Bird About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently New York Public Library's Youth Materials Collections Specialist. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of NYPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.

Comments

  1. Katherine says:

    Any excuse to link to the song “Crayola Doesn’t Make A Color For Your Eyes.”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EELEjeYzfjM

    • nancywimbush says:

      Love the VID. Thanks. I also loved the book and didn’t even get the ‘colour’ stereotypes. Guess that’s because I love the message of inclusivity and diversity and the community of colour. Oliver Jeffers illustrations are amazing and I love him. Now that I’ve read Elizabeth’s review I’ll have to go back and re read the book. I bought it for Day of Pink and LGBT big ideas. Enjoyed the discourse and as always Elizabeth’s way with the word. Now I’m thinking…..

  2. I do not think you’re reading too much into this, Betsy! I was so crestfallen upon reading the beige and peach pages. I was also disappointed in the final spread, which features (count ‘em) 5 people, none of whom are of color.

    I was also disappointed in the total lack of a voice for “Brown”. Beige references Brown, but we never hear from the brown crayon. What’s up with that?

    As for the argument that we’re being too sensitive — anyone who has accidentally read an offensive book to a group of children, and seen the faces of those who feel devalued by the offense, will not say you’re being too sensitive.

    We need more conversation about this, not less! Thank you for the post.

  3. Linda Baie says:

    I just reviewed this book (happily) & was sent over to your site to see your review by a blogger friend. I’m sad to say I didn’t catch your problems with the colors & wish I had. I don’t think you are too picky. When I first read the book, the one thing I did consider was whether the words about pink coloring different things, like cowboys, was a hint for gay issues, or at the very least, the ‘little girl’ & always pink for her problem, at least I think it’s a problem. I am particularly concerned about the empowerment of girls and gay rights so things pop out at me in those terms more than most. I didn’t write about that because I thought I was reading too much into it, but your ‘flesh’ color/single-sidedness is definitely there. Thanks for the good analysis of the book!

  4. Dana G says:

    Your close reading of this is spot on, Betsy. But then again, I’m a former editor of multicultural picture books who went apoplectic about Madlenka, which features “French American” and “Italian American” neighbors alongside “Asian” and “Latino” neighbors (as if those incredibly broad designations are the equivalent of individual countries). Authors, illustrators, editors, and publishers still have a lot of work to do in this area, and I appreciate every effort to call it out.

  5. Drew Daywalt says:

    Dear Elizabeth Bird,

    I appreciate your lengthy analysis of my book, but before you wrote it, you might have found it enlightening to do some very basic internet research. You would have discovered that while I am caucasian, I am not only in an interracial marriage, but my two children, the loves of my life, are shades of brown. Brown crayon’s omission was solely because it was a happy crayon (Puppies, Ponies and Bunnies) as told by Beige, and including it would have duplicated Green Crayon, who was also content with his color. The text in Pink did not represent nudity, it represented breaking outdated, sad and dangerous stereotypes. I notice you had no praise there for my one social issue. And Peach being naked did not represent “flesh”. Any color crayon with it’s wrapper torn off would complain of being naked… it was just a joke and would work equally well on any color. And if you’re going to nit pick, which you are, then you should notice that black crayon and white crayon did make their appearance, and neither was identified with race, racial issues or racial tensions. They were, as children see them, simply colors… I wish more adults like you could see things so innocently.

    I love criticism of my work, be it positive or negative, and I welcome it, because it makes me a better artist. What I do not love is being slandered and maligned as having some kind of unbelievably negative personal agenda, in this case a racist one, of all things.

    In answer to your opening line, you’ve read far too much into my work. And while you point your finger at me, announcing to the world that you think I’m somehow creating a subversive racist manifesto for 5 year olds, I will ask you to do what so many children and parents are doing with my book… think outside the box. Whether it’s the crayon box, or, in your case, the uninformed, sadly mistaken soap box.

    Sincerely,
    Drew Daywalt

    • Elizabeth Bird Elizabeth Bird says:

      Morning, Mr. Daywalt.

      First off, thank you for responding to my review. To my mind discourse is far better approached head on when issues come up in books for kids. I appreciate your writing me within the review itself so that we can have this discussion in the open. Many times folks will email me personally, and while that’s all fine and good I like it more when we can have a bit of back and forth. Other folks are more than welcome to join in. I was waiting all yesterday for someone to bring up some issues with my review, so there’s a sense of relief that comes when the other shoe has dropped.

      Now a bit of clarification. I am NOT calling you racist or even the book racist. I think I mention in the first paragraph that a person can’t go about pointing fingers and yelling “racism” willy-nilly. More to the point, what I read into the book is what I read into the book. I would point out that nowhere else on the internet and in no other reviews has this point been raised. I am on the one and only person mentioning this at this point and I acknowledge from the start that it is entirely possible that I am viewing this book through my own lens. That’s all that a reviewer can do. We look through our own personal lenses and it is impossible to read any book without bringing along your own baggage. In this particular case, my baggage is closely linked to recent discussions of race and perception in works for the kiddos. You’ll notice that in the review I mention that while I took issue with an aspect of this book I did not take issue with The Black Rabbit. So clearly personal perception has a lot to do with it. We’re working in a distinctly gray area here.

      I appreciate your clarifying that you have a lovely interracial family. Your personal life, however, is not my issue and nor should it have any influence over my review. I am making no assumptions about you or your beliefs or your family. You do not really come into it at all. All that I am personally saying is that unintentionally the book equates two colors with flesh tones and ignores a third. And while nobody takes any issue with that, I find it problematic. You’re absolutely right that any crayon could have been “naked”. I don’t doubt that! It’s the crayon that was that gets me.

      Thank you again for raising your concerns. It is not my intent to insult. Just to bring up a concern or two.

      All the best,

      Betsy

      P.S. That was actually a really good line with the “soap box”. I keep thinking about it. Well played.

      • PramgaticMom says:

        I just wanted to reference your point here Betsy about The Black Rabbit author Philippa Leathers:

        “There’s also the fact that the book, I believe, is originally Australian, so the author wasn’t working with a lot of the codes and keys common in American culture.”

        But then you say to Drew Daywalt:
        “Your personal life, however, is not my issue and nor should it have any influence over my review. I am making no assumptions about you or your beliefs or your family. You do not really come into it at all.”

        Doesn’t it seem like you are cutting Philippa some slack because she is Australian and therefore has a particular world view that might not see racism in color. But Drew’s personal situation doesn’t come into view in that he has bi-racial children.

        Could you please clarify your point?

      • Elizabeth Bird Elizabeth Bird says:

        Sure. These are two different points entirely. First off, a reviewer never EVER does research into an author’s family when critiquing a book. The review is not of the author, it’s of the text. But, as you rightly point out, clearly my knowledge of his U.S. roots influenced my review. Guilty as charged. I’m not giving Philippa slack because of her world view but because of her nation’s codes and keys (if there’s a better way to say this, and I know there is, I would love to find it). Mr. Daywalt, in comparison, is American so he’s aware of our own racial history as it relates to colors and crayons and that should have been in mind when writing the book.

        At this point you should point out that I take issue with one of the illustrations by Mr. Jeffers who is NOT American at all but Northern Irish! Ho ho! Je m’accuse! But I would defend my issue with the pink crayon as a fault on the part of the editor when the pink is paired with the peach and then the brown (sorry, beige) is included on top of all that.

        Sometimes it’s all about the confluence of things, rather than individual points.

    • Sara Ralph says:

      I am a big fan of Fuse #8, but while reading this it came to mind that she viewed The Day the Crayons Quit with the eyes of a cynical adult rather than with those of an innocent child. We have enough legitimate race issues in children’s literature without creating nonexistent ones with crayons! I am sure this book will delight my students (I work in an elementary school with 70%+ minority students) and am glad to add it to our school library’s collection. Sometimes a crayon is just a crayon.

  6. Rob Smith says:

    As always, your post has added more great books to my reading list. Thank you for reading too much into it–coming from a guy who doesn’t read into the messages of pictures books enough.

  7. Belinda says:

    As the author John Green likes to say, books belong to their readers

  8. Rusty says:

    I find it a little odd that the author expects the reviewer to have details about his personal life handy when reviewing his book. As an artist, once you create something and put it out there, people can interpret however they want – whether you like it or not. To demand they see it your way strikes me as more than a little childish and controlling. Besides, what’s the point of a book encouraging us to be creative, when the author is going to stomp his foot angrily whenever he doesn’t like people creatively interpreting it? One only has to scan the reviews on Goodreads and Amazon to see that other parents have had the same concern. And when you consider that less than 25% of the world is white, I imagine it will come up for others too.

  9. Bradin says:

    The issues here, as I see it, are whether or not picture books should be beholden to a nebulous criteria of social justice and whether or not it is the reviewer’s responsibility to judge the quality of a picturebook based on that criteria.

    I think picturebook creators should be concerned mostly with telling a good story through words and pictures, and they should be judged mostly on how well they accomplish that (both enormous tasks). The problem I have with this review is that you judge the book according to an outside agenda–a very personal definition of social justice–instead of judging the book on its aesthetic merits. That outside agenda, however noble, actually ends up telling us more about yourself than it does about the book, which makes for weak book review. You’re aware of this it seems, both in the language you use in the review (“I have a major problem with this story and it’s entirely possible that it’s just in my own head” and “How much am I reading into this through my own prejudices?”) and in your response to the author in the comments. Yet you still chose to cast your judgment according to that outside agenda. You also hide behind that decision when you say in the comments, “That’s all a reviewer can do. We look through our own personal lenses and it is impossible to read any book without bringing along your own baggage.” To a certain extent this may be true, but shouldn’t it be the reviewer’s goal to mitigate the influence of all that “baggage” (baggage is a euphemism–a better word would be ressentiment) to focus as much as possible on the work itself?

    Before I leave off, I want to say thank you for writing such a review and for allowing this discourse. It has given me much to think about these last few days, and it’s always fun and challenging to try to articulate an argument, especially when it’s dealing with tough stuff like this.

    • Elizabeth Bird Elizabeth Bird says:

      Absolutely. And you’re right when you say that “it shouldn’t be the reviewer’s goal to mitigate the influence of all that ‘baggage’.” That was something I wrestled with even as I wrote both the review and the response. To what extent am I using the admittedly weak excuse of “well this is just my opinion” to hide behind if I’m going to be brandishing big bold statements about what I do and do not like in a book?

      To answer the part about how I’m telling more about myself than the book, that’s pretty much true of all my reviews. I start out by talking about the book and end up talking about myself instead. It’s a style I try to get out of, but it bites me in the bum at even the best of times. I did, however, try to get away from this one singular issue with the book so that I could address other merits (aesthetic and otherwise) and problems above and beyond my own bugaboos. Those can be found in the final paragraphs of the review.

      And may I say, thanks for bringing up your own challenges and queries. I like discussion. I like discourse. And I like being told that I’m wrong in a logical and clear fashion. As you say, it makes for great conversations.

    • Hi Bradin!

      I have been thinking a lot about what you wrote, and there are a few points I feel compelled to make, as one who spends much of her days reading picture books to groups of children. I’m also a reviewer.

      You pose the question: Should a reviewer judge a picture book according to “a nebulous criteria of social justice”?

      I believe that Betsy’s criterion is not nebulous, but very simple: “[P]ink and flesh are equated with skin tones and that possibility isn’t even considered with beige or brown.” Sure, much of what people talk about when they talk “social justice” is nebulous and open to debate, but I think Betsy lays this one out pretty clearly.

      So, is it a reviewer’s business to judge according to a social justice criterion? Maybe not. But it is certainly the reviewer’s job to consider how a book will impact its intended audience, which in this case, includes children of all skin tones. To a certain extent, all reviewers must consider audiences, but this is particularly important for those who review works for children, since children cannot review books (in a professional capacity) themselves. They rely on reviewers to speak for them.

      You posit the argument that Betsy “judge[s] the book according to an outside agenda–a very personal definition of social justice”. And certainly Betsy’s language indicates that she’s aware of her personal lens that led her to the conclusion that she drew. But that lens exists for a reason, and it’s because these things have a very real impact on kids.

      A couple times, I’ve read picture books to groups of children and seen valid, hurt reactions from certain kids in the audience who feel de-valued by the book I chose. These were books with artistic merit, but they also contained hurtful elements that escaped my notice when I vetted them for read-aloud. I would discuss that, were I to review these books. That’s not an “outside agenda” on my part; it’s extremely relevant to the book and its relationship to its audience.

      Put simply, I believe that the social justice piece is relevant and that reviewers should not attempt to ignore it.

      Your comment was, as Betsy said, clear and logical and polite (politeness is so often underestimated). Thank you for it, and thanks for hearing me out as well.

      • Bradin says:

        Thank you for your response. You raise good points and I hope to address them adequately.

        I agree that Betsy’s criteria is simple and clearly stated. But here’s the thing: that criteria wasn’t available to author and illustrator beforehand. It was only made clear after the fact, and only in this particular review. Another reviewer could find a totally different issue with the book that they think makes for a “complicated reading.” For example, since Duncan interacts primarily with a product, someone might accuse the book of promoting materialism. If that sounds ridiculous to you:

        http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/apr/22/children-books-reinforce-materialism-claims-research

        Should we judge books by that criteria, no matter how clearly stated? How are creators supposed to know what will offend or negatively impact an audience? Should they have to tailor their books to every cultural concern? What might the end result be if they did? I think Klassen’s response in the link above is a pretty good answer to those questions.

        Aesthetic criteria may be just as nebulous in the mind of the author, illustrator, and reviewer, but struggling with them is part of the job description. Creators must work within the particular limitations and expectations of their medium, and then reviewers should decide how well they pull it off. Aesthetic concerns are inherent to the artform, in a way social justice concerns never can or should be. This is not to say social justice issues should never be brought up in a review. If a reviewer is made uncomfortable by something in a picture book, they should say so. But I’m not sure they should ever be the primary basis for judgment.

        You make a good case for a reviewer’s need to address those things that might impact their audience. I’m tempted to cede this point to you, but I remain unconvinced that social justice concerns have the potential to impact an audience more than aesthetic ones. Since this is first and foremost a picture book we’re dealing with–and not, say, a nonfiction book or political tract–it’s imperative that librarians, teachers, and parents know how well the author and illustrator did their job, how well the pictures and words work together, why or why not the picture book medium is the best medium for this story, how this book fits within the medium’s history, and if it’s been done before and done better, etc. The final judgment on the book should reflect these praises or concerns. All other issues are secondary. So, my issue with Betsy’s review is the primacy of the secondary issues. I can see why you believe Betsy would be doing her audience a disservice by not voicing her concerns, but I believe Betsy did her audience a bigger disservice by focusing too much on the those concerns and basing her judgment on them. (As Betsy pointed out to me, she addressed some aesthetic stuff in the second half of the review. I would argue it made little difference to her overall judgment on the book, while the social justice stuff made all the difference.)

        This response is already too long, but I want to give one more reason why I think story (and those aesthetic concerns inherent in the story) should be the most important consideration both for creator and reviewer. It comes from one of my favorite quotes by Sendak:

        “Grown-ups desperately need to feel safe, and then they project onto the kids. But what none of us seem to realize is how smart kids are. They don’t like what we write for them, what we dish up for them, because it’s vapid, so they’ll go for the hard words, they’ll go for the hard concepts, they’ll go for the stuff where they can learn something, not didactic things, but passionate things.”

        Our need to feel safe is where these outside agendas come from. We adults concern ourselves too much with what lies beyond our control–social justice stuff included. To help us deal, we project these concerns onto children. But, as Sendak says, they’re not having it. They want to learn “passionate things,” and I would argue those are found in a picture book’s story (that unique combination of words and pictures) and nowhere else. If we let outside agendas influence our artform, both in their creation and critique, I believe we end up with didactic books that no one will read or remember in ten years, and children will go looking for those passionate things elsewhere. If we let that happen in the name of whatever cause, we do a disservice to children of all ages and to our artform.

        I appreciate your push-back on my comment. It’s funny: the more I think and write about this stuff, the more I realize there’s so much I don’t understand or haven’t yet thought through, and I feel even less confident in my position than before I began. But I love trying to work it all out, so please feel free to continue pushing back.

      • Elizabeth Bird Elizabeth Bird says:

        Forgive my delayed response. This is probably going to strike you as a bit off-topic, but recently a video has circulated about the blogosphere of actor Will Wheaton expounding on why it is a good thing to be a nerd (seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H_BtmV4JRSc). The gist is that in this modern age you can find a community of like minded fellows to enjoy the exact same things that you do. But by the same token, the internet can be this echo chamber of folks saying over and over again the same things to one another without a different opinion coming into it. What I’ve always admired about the geekery that is children’s literature geekery is that by and large, and with only a few exceptions, we are able to discuss different opinions without turning nasty. That is what I like so much about this conversation.

        So! On to the debate!

        I can see why you’d say the author didn’t have my particular criteria, but then I don’t think my criteria is too out there or odd (I wouldn’t though, would I?). I mean, I think Aaron Zenz said something really interesting in these comments when he mentioned that for years he wanted to do a crayon picture book but was afraid to. If he’s aware of the link between color and color, I cannot be the only one. And all that I was asking was that folks pay attention to the book being written. I’ve seen the minute details a good editor will question on a picture book. That’s why I half expected Mr. Daywalt to chime in saying that he and his editor discussed some of the things I brought up and then figured that at the end of the day it wasn’t a big deal.

        Oh, and I have indeed seen that materialism post before. You’ll probably read me as two-faced, but that sort of things strikes me as silly.

        “I remain unconvinced that social justice concerns have the potential to impact an audience more than aesthetic ones.” I think that’s sort of a case by case basis, don’t you? I mean, some folks here may see the book in a different light after reading this review. Many others (as the comments attest) won’t be swayed one way or another. Concerns are concerns to me, whether they’re political or artistic. You can disregard or ignore them, but it’s always interesting to get another p.o.v.

        The Sendak is interesting. I take it that my own desire for the book to not equate pink and peach with the only flesh tones in the universe is the “outside agenda” being brought up. I dunno. I can see what you’re saying, but I’m not suggesting that the book be pulled from shelves or hidden from children or anything quite so censorous. I’m just saying that the book has a flaw that will be noticed by some and not noticed by others. For me, it hurts the project as a whole (which, depending on how you look at it, had some other problems as well). For others, it won’t make much of a difference either way. If you changed the peach crayon to blue would the book be didactic in some way? If you raise concerns and ask that folks pay as much attention to the picture books they write as the novels that come out for adults, is that somehow inhibiting the creative process?

        Must creativity be aware of history? Are there rules that command it? Or is it supposed to be free at all times to do whatever it wants without nosy gatekeeper grown-ups poking about?

        I think part of the reason Sendak was as successful an artist as he was had a lot to do with the compassion of his work. He always thought everything through. Each book he illustrated was thought out and carefully considered. If he is banned (and he is) it’s never for anything he failed to take into account or didn’t consider.

        At this point I’m just rambling on. I like a good dialogue. Ball’s in your court!

      • Elizabeth Bird Elizabeth Bird says:

        And just to pad this thing out even longer, a thought occurred to me today, inspired by a Twitter response to this review. Someone asked if I would apply these same standards to something like Ed Young’s Seven Blind Mice. I think the difference is historical, though. Crayola and crayons have a history with equating colors with fleshtones, and as their multicultural line of crayons indicate, they acknowledge that history and correct for it. Mice, in contrast, aren’t usually equated with human skin color. So to the the statement that these standards are my own and no one else would have access to them, clearly Crayola does and has. But then, they’re in the business. It’s going to be on their minds.

      • Bradin says:

        From my perspective, it’s not about your criteria being too odd or out there or not legitimate. Unlike some others in this thread, I don’t think it’s a question of reading too much into it either. What I’m questioning is the place and prominence of that criteria in this review, and, by extension, in the creation and critique of all picture books. I have yet to be persuaded by an argument for why social justice concerns (or any other concern) should take precedence over aesthetic ones in the review of a picture book. Allie’s argument for audience came close, but my response was an attempt to say: We do our audience the biggest disservice by not considering, first and foremost, whether or not a picture book stands up as a work of art. Mention other concerns, if you feel they warrant it (which obviously you do), but judge the book primarily on its aesthetic merits.

        I didn’t share the Sendak quote to suggest you wanted to censor the book. I brought it up to a) suggest there’s a psychology behind these outside agendas and to b) make the point that if we create and judge books based upon the perceived messages within them, then we will end up with aesthetically-null picture books that kiddos will not be interested in reading. Yes, Sendak had a ton of compassion for his work. He also saw his work as an attempt to make serious art, and his greatness lies in that very fact. I don’t think I’ve ever read a review of his books, but I imagine the better reviews were the ones who promoted his aesthetic merits and the worst reviews were the ones that said, “Oh noes, Mickey is naked! We can’t allow our children to see a little penis!”

        I think you’re downplaying the impact of your review in some of your comments. You’re not just saying “that the book has a flaw that will be noticed by some and not noticed by others.” You devoted most of your review to that perceived flaw and withheld your recommendation because of it. I’m not saying it’s a book that deserves recommendation, but it does deserve a fair shake based on how well it works as a picture book and not on how well it delivers the message you’d like it to.

        You asked: “Must creativity be aware of history? Are there rules that command it? Or is it supposed to be free at all times to do whatever it wants without nosy gatekeeper grown-ups poking about?” These are questions I’ve asked myself a number of times during this back and forth. I don’t have a good answer. Obviously, I can’t offer a definitive No to the first two or an absolute Yes to the third. But, ultimately, I think it’s a matter of priorities. Like Klassen says in that materialism link: “If you’re in the position of making these things, I think you mostly have to worry about whether the story is working the best it can, and just hope that your politics and attitudes that might be coming across are lining up with what’s good for them.” I think reviewers should work from the same set of priorities.

        I’d like to end with a question of my own, because I’m curious: Why do you find that materialism link silly?

  10. Mary Ann Scheuer says:

    I’ve found this conversation very interesting, Betsy. You’ve raised points I didn’t see at first, but are important to think about. I personally liked the humor in The Day The Crayons Quit very much, and think the illustrations complemented the text very well. Although I haven’t been able to reread the book (I’m away from home), I think that the crux of the matter falls on the Beige page. This page struck me the first time I read the story since I don’t remember a Beige color in my crayon sets growing up. Burnt Siena? Yep. Violet Blue? Check. But no Beige. So this page just never clicked with me. I also wonder if the wording around the Brown color was particularly clear.

    I had fun last night reading a comprehensive site on the history of Crayola colors. Turns out that Tan was introduced in the 1950s. Around that same time, Flesh was briefly changed to Peach Beige for a year, before it was changed back. Here’s the site — have fun poking around it:
    http://www.crayoncollecting.com/ccolor13.htm

    Thanks very much for asking folks to think deeply and carefully about what works in books for kids.

    • Elizabeth Bird Elizabeth Bird says:

      Thanks, Mary Ann! Was Flesh really, honestly, turned into “Peach Beige”? Because that’s a coincidence that just blows what few atoms remain in my little brain.

  11. One of my books has an African American as the main character. She owns a laundromat. All the final art was delivered and was in China to be printed. I had tea with a former editor and she looked at the laser prints of the final art. She made an astute point that saved my butt. She noticed that my skin tones painted in paled down shades of raw sienna looked too pale and that my main character came off as the only AA servicing the caucasians. I called my editor and art director. We all slapped our heads wondering why we never caught this. Art was shipped back to the US. I sat in the publisher’s office repainting some characters with darker shades. Sometimes we are too close to a project. I wonder where the art director or editor was here, they seem to have also missed the point that Betsy made which I find valid. Also, Betsy and I became friendly after she pointed out something in a review of my book which I still tend to disagree with even if her point was valid. Go figure that one out. I respected that she did her homework. Still do.

  12. Aaron Zenz says:

    I wrote a story about crayons when I was seven. ( http://www.aaronzenz.com/CrayonEscape.html ) After all these years, I still think it’s a story that (with some tweaking) would hold up as a legit picture book today. I love the idea of a book, written by the 7 year old me, illustrated by the 37 year old me.
    While racial issues were the farthest thing from the 7 year old author, they paralyze every time I contemplate resurrecting the story. It’s a huge reason I’ve been afraid to do anything with it. What would unintentionally be offensive? What would I change to avoid this? What new offenses would be introduced in my attempt to avoid offenses? Clearly I could run the story by a variety of folks, but everyone sees things through different lenses. I almost always share the book with kids during my school visit to show them something I made at their age. I try to read their faces. Is it okay for a black crayon to suffer physical harm? Can a brown crayon be mistaken for a worm? Of course it’s okay. Or maybe not. Or yes? Or no? Or why not? Gah. These are very real thoughts that honestly have plagued me, preventing me from returning to this story as an adult. I certainly DO read too much into it, worried about perception.
    I’m just proud of Daywalt and Jeffers for being brave enough to make a book about crayons at all.

  13. Mr. Daywalt and Mr. Jeffers have created a beautiful, fun book for kids of all ages, colors, creeds. I applaud them!

  14. Elaine Donadio says:

    Good morning to Everyone,

    This is quite a controversy stirred up by what should be a literal interpretation of a simple children’s book, as declared by its author. I think the adult readers/ writers community is caught up in a figurative interpretation cycle – looking for symbolism, metaphor, higher messages and themes where none actually exists. Sometimes it is precisely what it looks like and nothing more. This might be a disappointment to people who lauded this book for its controversy or hidden message. Does this change your mind about its value?

    I’ve worked as a teacher in New York City schools for many years teaching students who are all a different shade of brown. Years ago, I came across a box of crayons, I think by Crayola, that contained only skin tones. If my memory serves me, there were eight shades in the box. A simple solution is to include these same shades in the largest crayon box and simply label each one: skin tone. This would allow the “artist” to choose from whatever skin tone he or she would like to represent at the moment without having to assign a value to it.

    I remember a few years back where a young, inexperienced white New York City teacher was driven out in fear from her predominantly African American school district, after reading a book from a recommended book list about “nappy hair.” I don’t know remember the exact title but the point is this: while many thought the book was a means to foster pride in appearance, others took the books message as a racial slur. She was following official recommendations by the powers that be but nobody checked the emotional impact on parents in the district.

    Sometimes it gets to be too much. Unfortunately, we live in a society where almost nothing is taken at
    face value. Even a compliment must have a hidden insult built in there somewhere. Personally, I’m tired of
    the mistrust . Our society is so busy with their heads looking down at their text messages, we’re forgetting how to look at facial expressions, body language and tone of voice as reinforcement for words. A well written book
    captures this with illustrations. If the words and illustrations capture the innocence of childhood, as this book apparently does, why can’t we leave it at that and accept the message as given?

  15. Ed Spicer says:

    On a totally different level, I read this book to my first graders. Beige is the favorite character in the book. No student saw any link between Beige and Pink. My students loved this book and I plan to use it with my group coming in this year because it has a natural link between writing and drawing and because it is so much fun to read. The illustrations add depth to the text and, indeed, extend the text effectively. Personally, I was very pleased with the Pink character–not because of its flesh tones but because it provides the opportunity to explore with first graders issues involving gender and the pervasive, “girl color/boy color” issue.

    • Elizabeth Bird Elizabeth Bird says:

      Interesting! The only objection I could find aside from mine was someone saying that the pink section too easily equates pink with girl colors, rather than exploring the gender issue. I’m with you on this particular point, though. I had no problem with the pink. It reminds me of my own desire for the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series to do a pink cover (which they will never do, but how awesome would it be if they did?).

    • Aaron Zenz says:

      Here’s my theory on why “Beige” was singled out for the funny loner character (and hence catapulting him to the status of universal favorite character). Because, simply, “Beige” is an awesome word. Say it out loud. “Beige. Beige. Beige.” It’s inherently funny, and yet it invokes “boring” and “blah” at the same time. The word rocks.
      For as much as Crayola has been brought up in the discussions, Beige is not even a Crayola color: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Crayola_crayon_colors
      So why didn’t Daywalt use one of the 133 other real crayon names? Because the word “Beige” is funny and perfect. I suspect that’s all there is to it.

      • Elizabeth Bird Elizabeth Bird says:

        Maybe so. Perhaps the root of my discomfort lies in the spelling of the word. I before E except after C, right? So what’s with “beige”? GET WITH THE PROGRAM, BEIGE!

        It is fun to say. It’s like the word “drawer”. The more you try to pronounce it, the odder it sounds.

  16. Lily says:

    I think you are reading way too much into the book. I also think it’s pretty clear (at least to me, but perhaps because I am the parent of a little girl) that the pink crayon is complaining about how little boys (and presumably, tomboys) shun it. I don’t see how skin color plays into that one at all.

    I consider myself to be pretty liberal, but honestly, this review reads like an Onion article to me.

    It’s also interesting that you excuse the book with the “scary” black rabbit (which I am sure was not intentional prejudice but seems more clearly problematic overall) with the excuse that Australians aren’t working with American codes and keys. As someone who has spent a lot of time in Australia, I can tell you that the treatment of the Aborigines was as shameful as many of America’s racial incidents. (I love Australia, but to assume it’s somehow free of racial prejudices is absurd.)

    • Elizabeth Bird Elizabeth Bird says:

      I wondered if someone would bring that up. Certainly “The Rabbits” by John Marsden (illustrated by Shaun Tan!) is a perfect example of outside oppression to the Aborigine people in the form of fluffy bunnies. When I said codes and keys I was referring to the term “black” which is pretty American. I wasn’t suggesting that there isn’t equal or worse prejudices in Australia. But terms for Aborigines are different from terms for African-Americans, yes? And the problem with the book (which I take it you have read, since you speak to it) is not the same for that reason. Clearer?

      The Onion, for the record, has done its own fair share of children’s book reporting: http://www.theonion.com/video/adults-go-wild-over-latest-in-childrens-picture-bo,14388/

  17. Dana G says:

    A previous commenter asked why social justice concerns (or any other concern) should take precedence over aesthetic ones in the review of a picture book. To me, the obvious answer is because a book can be impeccably designed and illustrated—beautiful to behold, a gorgeous object—and still impart a damaging (racist, classist, sexist, ageist, whatever) message to children. Actually, forget about being damaging—a picture book could be totally vapid and boring and still look great. The aesthetic value of a book is a completely subjective measuring stick, as much as anyone’s sensitivity to what’s being called “outside agendas” (and don’t even get me started on that—outside of what? White mainstream culture? Something else?). There is no objective aesthetic yardstick to measure a book against… Who is the grand poobah who decides that art is the Most Important Thing in picture books? I would argue that since kids don’t have fully developed critical thinking skills, message is just as important as anything else.

    • Lily says:

      While I’ve been trying to resist getting embroiled in this comment thread again, I’d just like to point out that racism (at least in this case) seems to be subjective, as is political correctness. Someone can read this and find it incredibly racist and someone else may never think of race while reading it. Who is right? I guess that’s the burning question.

      • Lily says:

        This discussion made me think about The Chronicles of Narnia. When adults read it, it’s pretty clear that it’s a Christian allegory, even though I’ve read that C.S. Lewis said he didn’t intend it that way. I must have read these books a million times when I was younger, and they were my favorites, but I can’t say I had any inkling of the Christian message (even though I was attending Sunday School during those years). I ended up agnostic, so even reading these books over and over didn’t somehow make me a religious Christian.

        I agree with Bradin. It’s fine to mention concerns, but books should be reviewed with the intended reader in mind–which in this case, isn’t adults. For example, I think the lead character in Pinkalicious is obnoxious and spoiled, but my daughter LOVES that book. When we read it the second time, we discussed the ways Pinkalicious acted and spoke to her parents. I think it’s important to remember that kids aren’t reading books in a vacuum.

      • Elizabeth Bird Elizabeth Bird says:

        Sure, I see what you’re saying. I think my concern, however, is the child. You get a kid with skin that isn’t pink or peach seeing a book where that’s the only option for flesh tones and even if they don’t notice it, it’s sad. Am I saying that a kid will read this and be wracked with misery? Not a jot. I just want books for kids that take all kids into account. And crayons, for whatever reason, seem a bit more controversial in this respect that other types of books. It’s all for the kiddos. They deserve the best, most considerate books we can give.

    • Bradin says:

      First off, when I say aesthetics, I’m not just talking about the looks of a picture book. Picture books are a complex, collaborative artform that includes pictures AND words, with both working together to tell a story. So if a picture book were to be boring, vapid, or blatantly racist, classist, sexist, etc., it would make for a crap story, no matter how beautiful the pictures, and thus an aesthetically poor picture book. It gets a little more complicated if a picture book isn’t obviously one of these things. What if it’s subtly damaging, as Betsy believes The Day the Crayons Quit to be? Well then, mention it in the review, but first and foremost try to judge the book on how well it works as a picture book.

      The aesthetic value of a book is subjective, yes. I’ve already admitted as much in an earlier comment. However, I believe there is a somewhat objective aesthetic yardstick to measure a picture book against: the medium itself. A reviewer is usually someone who has read widely and deeply in the picture book medium and they’ve developed an idea of the common traits between all picture books, or, in other words, they’ve developed a concept of picture books. They use that concept to compare how well a new picture book stands up to other books in the medium. Of course, since that concept is filtered through a mind that’s fallible to biases, lack of knowledge, etc., you’ll never escape subjectivity completely. But, as I said before, I believe it’s the role of the reviewer to mitigate their own limitations as much as possible to focus on the artwork itself.

      I’ve been very clear what I mean by outside agenda. You just haven’t been paying attention. It has nothing to do with white mainstream culture or any other such nonsense. The outside agenda is ANYthing projected onto the artwork that doesn’t have to do with what the artwork is trying to accomplish–in this case, tell a story. Take a look at that link about materialism from my earlier comment. In one example, it accuses Raschka’s A Ball for Daisy of promoting a “damaging” narrative of materialism because, dammit, Daisy just wants that ball so badly that her happiness and self worth are dependent on getting it. Kids might read that and think…well, I don’t know what they’ll think, but materialism is bad, okay?! We shouldn’t promote materialism in our picture books! That’s an interpretation that lies outside the aims of the book. Raschka wasn’t writing a meditation on materialism, so why determine the value of his book by that criteria? My argument is that Betsy is doing something similar in this review, even if her criteria is much more intelligent and subtle.

      I’m baffled by your last comment. What do critical thinking skills have to do with anything? Besides, most adults don’t have fully developed critical thinking skills either. Maybe we should take their favorite artforms and start projecting our own personal values onto them, too. You know what? I think Breaking Bad glamorizes drug culture too much. Someone might watch it and want to try cooking meth. Meth is bad! Not to mention, money is the only thing Walt seems to care about. Greed is bad! I give the show two stars. It would be a much better show if it didn’t have those damaging messages in them.

      Finally, if you need a Grand Poobah to explain these things better than I can, I nominate Sendak. Dude was so insightful about this sort of stuff. I recently posted an excerpt of one of his interviews on my tumblr that addresses these same issues. His words bear repeated study:

      http://abcofreading.tumblr.com/post/58060906060/maurice-sendak-on-picturebook-criticism

  18. When I first read the review I thought ok, whatever. I had glanced at the book in a store before reading the review. Not a big fan of that style of art. Goodreads reviews are saying the painted notes are too long and it’s disjointed from the child reading it and it’s more for parents. But I piped in due to the author’s edgy public comment to the reviewer which we have all been warned *don’t go there* and he did. Hopefully his publishing company has talked to him about that. I liked the comment that said (paraphrasing) “once it’s out in the public, the public decides”. People tend to superimpose their issues onto art. That’s what art is about. I look at Mona Lisa one way due to my life colorings. Not everyone is joined at the brain or heart or sensibilities…and that’s a very good thing. Diversity of ideas is how we grow and develop critical thinking. The fact that Betsy’s coloring wasn’t all rainbows and praise is something to chew on since she is a book expert. Argue for the book at Goodreads, those reviews weren’t all rainbows either. Also, race diversity is now a BIG issue in our book world. Bringing up race diversity issues or it’s lack is going to come up where there are colors and children involved… another good thing. Many reviewers compared one of my book to Where’s Waldo which was the furthest idea from my mind. What was I going to do, get a vigilante out on these reviewers? Chew on the ideas, take what you like and leave the rest behind.

  19. Taylor says:

    Yes. This. Finally. I read this book and waited and waited for a stubby half-crayon to come out and show that disabled kids can be unhappy with working conditions, just like able-bodied ones. And they have been, historically.

    I dunno. The author might have been imagining something different, but it just seemed like a tragically missed opportunity! And I also noticed that ALL of the crayons spoke English. Are we saying that NONE of the colors came from a multilingual background? That’s insane. Why couldn’t one of the colors (NOT yellow) speak Chinese? (Obviously not yellow because there’s a history there).

    I should lastly point out that if it wasn’t for the historical coding in our Judeo-Christian (Puritan) culture, than peach wouldn’t even be ashamed of its naked body. Semiotically–and historically–peach imagery has been used to connote women (symbolically female parts), so it made me sick to think that again, we as a culture were slut-shaming peach. That was them last straw for me. Especially because she is presented with a traditionally attractive body (rail thin….of course). That says to me that peach might be suffering from serious body dysmorphic issues, and readers are just expected to laugh at that!!!

    Thankfully, historically, librarians have been on the front lines of making sure that stories are first and foremost good for children.

  20. As a frequent reader of kids books, and a picky browser at the library, I’m really disappointed with much of what I encounter. So, I was happpily suprised when I read “The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt” last night to my daughter Star. I found it to be an original and authentic story, unpredictable and interesting. We especially liked the debate between Red and Yellow. Star rarely reads a book twice, and she is on her third read. I hope we see more books like this in the future.

  21. PramgaticMom says:

    I thought these links would be helpful for this discussion:

    Crayola® Large Multicultural Crayons – 8 Ct.

    The crayon colors are: black, sepia, peach, apricot, white, tan, mahogany and burnt sienna.

    There’s actually no pink in the set.

    I never equated pink as a color to represent humans. And I’m not noticing that in the Crayola history:

    “In 1958, Prussian Blue was renamed Midnight Blue. The color known as Flesh was renamed Peach in 1962, partially in response to the U.S. Civil Rights Movement. Indian Red was renamed Chestnut in 1999 due to concern that some children thought the crayon color represented the skin color of Native Americans.[2] According to the company, however, the name originally referred to a reddish-brown pigment from India that is used in artists’ oil paint.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Crayola_crayon_colors

    Could you give me the link of pink as being a flesh color for Crayola? I think that is a pivotal point of your argument.

    • Elizabeth Bird Elizabeth Bird says:

      It’s one of several, sure. Is it a ridiculous thing to equate pink with white flesh tones? That seems fairly self-evident to me. At the very least, let’s look at the pink monster. Is he or is he not covering up his private parts, indicating that he’s naked? That was my initial point. One suspects (and here we’re extrapolating, so if this were a court this next statement would be stricken from the record) that if the monster had been say, brown, he would not be doing the same private-covering-hand-motion.

      • PramgaticMom says:

        Maybe the monster is embarrassed to be pink? Or is it covering up in fear of an assault? It does look like the monster is being bullied and expects to be hit or kicked to me.

        You know what I would do? I’d ask a bunch of kids. I’d read the story and then ask questions like:

        - Why is the dinosaur laughing?
        - What is the dinosaur doing?
        - How does the pink monster feel? Why do you think that?

        I would also have kids draw self portraits. Honestly, I have seen hundreds of Kindergarten self portraits. My kids all drew monthly self portraits in Kindergarten and they would all be displayed. You can tell the child’s cognitive reasoning and fine motor from self portraits my early childhood educator mom friend tells me. For example, the head needs to be placed on a body or there is something amiss. And the more body parts, the higher the cognitive score even if it’s anatomically incorrect like drawing yourself with 35 fingers.

        But in all the drawings I saw (3 classrooms x 9 months x 19 to 27 children/class) plus in my preschool which was cooperative so I spent the day in the classroom helping as a parent volunteer every 2.5 weeks, I never once saw a kid draw a person with pink skin.

        As my daughter says (she blogs at PickyKidPix.Wordpress.com) when I asked her if she or her friends ever used pink for skin in Kindergarten:

        “Duh, no. Pink is for flowers and shirts. Who is this librarian anyway? She does not know kids.”

      • Elizabeth Bird Elizabeth Bird says:

        Darlin’, we’re having a really nice conversation here with some great thoughts being thrown back and forth. Not sure if calling into question my knowledge of the kiddos is the best way for the topic to turn. I know you’re quoting your daughter but let’s keep from getting into personal digs for just a bit longer, if possible.

        And I am perfectly fine with asking kids questions about these, but we should always remember that the kids we ask represent a certain segment of the population. I ask my kids here in NYC and you’re going to get very Manhattan responses, just as the kids in your area are going to give answers that are tied into their own personal experiences. This is always the thing about asking kids about books. Their answers are invaluable, but also a product of their environment. One sampling of kids is a sampling of a part rather than the whole, yes?

  22. PramgaticMom says:

    Pink as flesh tone is an interesting point so I asked experts (aka the kids in my car pool). They said that they wouldn’t have used pink for flesh because it’s too bright. My daughter said that in Kindergarten her friend Helena used orange and yellow to depict skin color but only because the flesh crayon was being used. Their Kindergarten teacher admonished them saying that people are not yellow or orange. She said that her bi-racial friend Griffin is very picky about color for his skin tone. He usually mixes his own palette using white and black because he’s half caucasian and half black. I asked about crayons since it’s hard to mix. She said he used a multi-racial crayon that he felt was accurate. She said she loves those multi racial crayons. Have you seen the pink color palette of Crayola? I have to agree. It’s very bright but I suppose it depends which pink shade you get; there are many shades of pink in the big crayola set.

    I do agree with pink being a very girly color. I have two girls and a boy and I have to say that the color preference is pink with some purple as soon as girls can talk to about age 6. Then it seems to switch to sky blue. About 8 or 9 it then switches to turquoise blue. Then tweens seem to gravitate to darker colors: navy, gray, brown. Full blown teens (I have one now) seem to be gray and black — gothish. It’s funny but all my kids’s friends seem to be partial to these colors and at these approximate ages.

    For boys, they seem a little more varied but green and blue were my son’s picks. Green when younger and now firmly blue. He’s 9. But not sky blue or turquoise blue, a darker more royal shade of blue. Colors as feminine or masculine are an interesting backstory as Drew suggests in his book. So true for us at least!

    I’m going to ask my Kindergarten teacher who has taught for 20+ years if kids think pink is a flesh color and if she has noticed any trends for that either being one or fading out as one. My daughter if firmly in the camp that pink is way too bright to be skin and no one she knows ever did that.

  23. PramgaticMom says:

    I have a marketing background so I’m trained to think that what I think is not necessarily representative of the segment that I am targeting. While I don’t think that focus groups represent the population either — they can be swayed by the wording of the question for example or just the attention that they get — they are a good way to get a sampling. Obviously, you’d do focus groups to test your product or idea in different markets and cities.

    I would be curious what NYC kids think as opposed to Boston suburban kids. And while, these two segments don’t represent the whole, it’s possible to get more data from having other librarians or teachers do the same — read the book, ask the questions with the same wording, etc.

    What is the danger here is that your concerns for this book are for kids who don’t really exist.

    I have been pondering pink as skin color and the best I can imagine is kids who are sunburned might be construed as pink or red. But the kids of today unlike in my generation are indoctrinated in SPF and there are also rash guard products that I regularly see kids wear that did not exist in the 70s and 80s. I honestly have not seen a sunburnt baby or toddler or preschooler during the last 15 years when we vacation at beaches. And in preschools, or at least mine, they require parents to bring in sunblock and sign a medical waiver allowing the daycare provider to apply it.

    So maybe pink as skin color was an earlier generation that didn’t use sunscreen and therefore got sunburn. I grew up in a Southern California beach town and swam on the swim team and never used sunscreen nor did my teammates.

    As for knowledge of the kiddos, I respectfully bring back my link to the Slants trademark lawsuit with the U.S. Trademark office. Simon Tan actually asked me several years ago to write a letter in support of his trademark which I was happy to do. He needed Asian Americans who would represeent our ethnicity to state their position on the use of Slants. As a blogger who wrote on Asian American Creativity, I was suitable. I agreed with Simon that using the word “Slant” was fine with me because it meant that we are taking a deragatory term and making it our own. But the U.S. Trademark office disagrees in order to “protect” us. I would hazard a guess that there are few if any Asian Americans in the U.S. Trademark office weighing in on The Slants trademark. Why should the U.S. Trademark office decide what is “offensive” to Asian Americans? What qualifications do they have to ascertain that? They are more qualified to tell me what offends me?

    I think it’s commendable that you think of diversity issues on behalf of children. But I really am having trouble following the logic of your argument.

    Australians don’t understand race as color. But …
    “At this point you should point out that I take issue with one of the illustrations by Mr. Jeffers who is NOT American at all but Northern Irish! Ho ho! Je m’accuse! But I would defend my issue with the pink crayon as a fault on the part of the editor when the pink is paired with the peach and then the brown (sorry, beige) is included on top of all that.

    Sometimes it’s all about the confluence of things, rather than individual points.”

    That argument seems weak to me.

    That the monster is naked is another debatable point. Animal monsters as opposed to human monsters like Frankenstein do not wear clothes. That’s simply because animals do not wear clothes. The pink monster looks like a hippo. Hippos do not wear clothes. That the monster is covering the groin area while the pink dinosaur laughs and points could be a number of situations from bullying to embarrassment at being pink. What if your interpretation of the monster being naked is the outlier data point? As a marketer, I dismiss outliers but the only to find out is to run focus groups to get numbers to crunch.

    Pink as representative as flesh color is also a stretch for me. If it really were a color that is commonly used to depict human flesh, then why wasn’t it included in the Crayola 8 Count Chunky Multicultural Set?

    And, if you give children the task of drawing humans and give them the Multicultural set as well as the 8 count chunky set or the 16 count think crayon set, I don’t see how they would pick pink (as my daugther would argue). [Feel free to tell her that her comment was out of line by leaving her a comment on her blog. She responds to comments].

    If you look at the 8 count Crayola set, pink is not even included! This is the set that you’ll find in most preschools.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Crayola_crayon_colors

    8 count: black, brown, blue, green, red, violet, orange, yellow.

    On school supply lists, you are usually assigned the 8 pack or the 16 pack depending on the grade.

    The 16 pack has Carnation Pink as the only pink choice. By the description, I’d have to go with my daughter’s assessment that this is pink for flowers. Right? Carnation is a flower that comes in a pink hue.

    Which pink are you referring as being flesh-like? Do you mean Cotton Candy?

    Cotton Candy appears to be the match in the illustration and that is in the 120 pack. Honestly, you have to be child of priviledge to own the 120 pack set. That’s the one with the built in sharpener.

    But if you have the 120 pack, you have every hue including the multicultural colors so I would imagine that the child drawing humans would use those multicultural flesh toned colors instead.

    I would love to hear what the kids in your library think. Let me know when you get a chance to ask them!

    • Elizabeth Bird Elizabeth Bird says:

      I think the best way to put a cap in this is this: When you read my review do you interpret it to mean that the statements I make are things that you MUST believe? Because that’s not how it’s written. Here’s the review in a nutshell:

      I see potential problems with this book. Some people will agree with me. Others (obviously) do not, but what’s nice is that we can have a debate about these things. And if you disagree with me, that’s great. All that I am saying is that there is more than one way to look at this book. If you read my p.o.v. and react with a strident “YOU’RE WRONG!” that is your opinion and you are entirely justified in having it. But what you cannot say is that I cannot believe something different from you. I feel this way about some of the problematic elements in this story. Other people feel differently.

      Now we can go back and forth all day about whether or not a pink crayon can or cannot represent a skin tone. And you will not convince me and I will not convince you and we’ll both end up frustrated. So I’m going to leave you with this: You totally have points and they are good points and some I agree with and some I disagree with. But at the end of the day, I see unintentional problems with a very popular picture book that I would like to talk to people about. Come to NYC, we’ll grab a coffee, and we’ll have a copy on hand to discuss at length. But nitpicking over individual elements isn’t really going to get us anywhere in the end.

      • Elizabeth Bird Elizabeth Bird says:

        And to be extra clear, feel free to keep bringing up points here. It’s Thanksgiving and I don’t have the time to devote to responses, but I don’t want to shut down the debate. Go right ahead and keep on commenting. I promise I’ll read what you write.

      • nancywimbush says:

        Hello – I have to jump back in on the positive side. The discourse re race and gender issues may not be the conversation that we want to have. The discussion that Elizabeth’s review promoted surprised me. So I am weighing in:
        I agree with Ms Bird that the discussion we are having is a result of the beauty of the medium; the picture book. As a long standing member of our school library review committee I read the book and bought it. I responded to the author’s message, loved the book and didn’t even get the ‘colour’ stereotypes. Other readers will respond differently. This is a good thing to my mind.
        This reader loved the message of inclusivity and diversity and the community of colour represented in animal form. Oliver Jeffers illustrations are amazing as always. Now that I’ve read Elizabeth’s review I’ll have to go back and re read the book. I bought it for Day of Pink and LGBT big ideas. I wonder how the teacher will address these issues depending on whether the audience is MS, SS, Adult or ELEM. The prior knowledge and experience that the reader brings to this story will frame student questions and inferential thinking. I enjoyed the discourse and as always Elizabeth’s way with the word. Now I’m thinking…..Isn’t that what good readers do? Thank you for your perspective Elizabeth. It gives this life long learner something to think about:) The discussion is the learning:)

  24. PramgaticMom says:

    One final point of discussion Betsy. You’ve analyzed the hippo monster but you’ve left out the dinosaur. Please tell me more about that:

    1) Since the dinosaur also pink, is it also not naked?
    2) Why is the pink dinosaur laughing and pointing at the hippo montster if they are both naked?
    3) Why is the pink dinosaur not showing private parts if it is naked and/or not covering them up in an embarrassed way like the hippo monster?
    4) Are you assigning gender roles to either the dinosaur and/or the hippo monster?
    5) How can the dinosaur NOT be naked if the hippo monster is indeed portrayed as naked?
    6) How the dinosaur not be embarrassed to be naked if the hippo monster must hide private parts in embarrassment?
    7) Perhaps this scene is not about being naked?

    • Elizabeth Bird Elizabeth Bird says:

      Figured I’d let this one go but I got curious about the image.

      So I took a gander at the pic and honestly there is no other way in the world to interpret that image. The monster is clearly doing the old cover-your-privates move beloved of cartoon and screen. Maybe I just grew up with a LOT of Looney Toons (though Pixar isn’t adverse to the same movement) but that’s an unmistakable gesture. One character laughing and pointing and the other showing embarrassment for something that, when you think about it, is ironic. Of COURSE the dino is also pink and naked. That’s why the whole scene is funny (I think it was E.B. White who said that the surest way to kill comedy was to explain it but I’ll make an exception here). It’s the irony of one character making fun of another for the very thing that they themselves are privy to. That’s the JOKE! And to say that the monster has been hit in the crotch makes absolutely zippo sense whereas the naked joke, if you use the understanding that pink = naked is instantly understandable. The monster isn’t in pain. The monster is covering its dignity. If you don’t get this joke that is fine, but it has a long cultural history and is playing off of certain assumptions. It’s a cartoon staple.

      As for assigning gender roles, that dino could be a girl or boy. Ditto the monster. This isn’t about gender.

  25. PramgaticMom says:

    Well, if both the Dinosaur and the Hippo monster are naked, there is another explanation for why the Dino is not embarrassed and the hippo is. Perhaps the hippo is embarassed by its physical condition while the dino is not. That is actually more logical.

    I’m laughing at you because we are both naked is not a funny joke in any sense, ironic or not. In the same sense, I’m laughing at you because you are Asian and yet I am too. There’s no punch line here except if there are differences between you being naked and me being naked. Obviously, the embarrassed one is uncomforable about something that the other naked one is not.

    The dino is laughing because the hippo has private parts to hide but the dino does not? Even though the dino is naked?

    Yes, I grew up on Loony Tunes cartoons as well. There’s a lot of bullying and victimasation in those cartoons. In those cartoon, one character has the upper hand. They are not both in the same condition. For example, when one character is covering privates the rest of the characters are clothed. They are never all naked together.

    At the end of the day, yes we will not agree. I am going through this exercise with you because 1) it feels like a witch hunt to me. An author, illustrator, editor and publishing company are deeply affected by your point of view that this is a subversive racist picture book. 2) If you apply critical reasoning skills to your argument, it doesn’t stand up. Yes, you make good counter points but it seems to me that there are a lot of inconsistencies in your point of view. 3) I am wondering if this is the process by which children’s books land on the banned and/or challenged list? 4) Since School Library Journal is the gatekeeper to books that land in public libraries, are they subversive keepers of the Banned or Challenged Book List? Your focus on subversive messages is making me think conspiracy is everywhere. 5) Your post doesn’t claim that your opinions are your own and not those of the School Library Journal and you additionally, you are on their payroll. Since they sit quietly on the sidelines, am I to interpret that they stand by what you say? 6) How does a book land on the banned/challenged list anyway? Who keeps this list? 7) Are you trying to get this book on the banned/challenged list? There are many, many books on it for transgressions more minor than what you perceive.

  26. Sara Ralph says:

    I can’t find the comment to apply to it directly (it was emailed to me, but perhaps it was deleted), but to make the leap to suggest Betsy Bird is trying to subversively ban this book is offensive in the extreme. As a librarian, I would never participate in censorship, but librarians that do aren’t causing copies to appear on banned/challenged lists. They can put something in a back room or mark it “lost” on the computer. A blog post would certainly not be necessary. Well-meaning, but often misguided parents and members of the community are usually responsible for any banned book case referred to in the media. I also disagree with Betsy’s interpretation of this particular book, but that is in no way cause to insult her personally or to insult the profession of librarianship. Beat a dead horse if you wish, but realize that personal attacks and outlandish censorship conspiracy theories detract from your argument.

  27. PramgaticMom says:

    Fair enough. But who keeps the banned challenged list? How does a book officially get on it?

    • Sara Ralph says:

      The list comes from reports (directly or through the media) to the Office of Intellectual Freedom, a division of the American Library Association. More information can be found here: http://www.ala.org/bbooks/banned

    • Sara Ralph says:

      I want to add that I’ve followed this blog for years, and Betsy to be a great librarian, and a champion of children’s books, libraries and literacy. You may vehemently disagree with her view here, but this blog is still an excellent source for teachers, librarians and parents.

      • Sara Ralph says:

        *found her to be

      • Sara Ralph says:

        *found her to be rather

      • Elizabeth Bird Elizabeth Bird says:

        Thank you, Sara. I appreciate the rise to my defense.

        Let us now be clear about something. Because a person does not like a book, that is no reason to make the assumption that the person wishes it banned. I am a librarian and the Youth Materials Specialist of New York Public Library. I have personally purchased 102 copies of this very book for my system, long after I decided that I personally did not like it, because it is not my JOB to force my opinions on others. My job is to make materials of all sorts available to the children of New York City. To suggest that I would ban a book, any book, that I do not personally like is beyond insulting. You have taken what was a civilized disagreement about a title and called into question my very occupation and morals.

        People are allowed not to like books sometimes. People are allowed to voice their opinions without fingers pointed at them and the cry of “BOOK BANNER!” aimed in their directions. School Library Journal had a very different review of this book, but what I love about them is that they allow me to disagree with their reviews from time to time with my own.

        We are all allowed to disagree with one another.

  28. PramgaticMom says:

    There is a pink pig in the Happy Farm coloring page for Yellow Crayon. Is the pig naked or not? It is a common cultural idiom to draw pigs pink and therefore the pig is not naked.

    If the pig IS naked in your estimation, what color would a non naked pig be?

    Or, if the pig is not naked in our estimation, what color is a naked pig?

    The dinosaur makes three appearances. It is green on the green crayon page. It is pink on the pink crayon page, and you claim that the dinosaur is naked, and in fact, laughing at the naked pink monster. In the final spread, the dinosaur is pink and looking content, surrounded by animals and humans who are not naked. How do you explain why the monster would be embarrassed by its naked condition in front of a naked dinosaur but the dinosaur, when surrounded by a large non naked crowd, is happy?

    Also, if pink is skin color “because that is just obvious”, why is the skin on all of the humans not pink? The cow boy in the pink crayon page is pink and clearly not naked. Or are you saying the cowboy is wearing a vest but the rest of him is naked?

  29. PramgaticMom says:

    My 9-year-old son just gave his intpretation of the Pink Crayon page. He says, ” The dinosaur is laughing at the owl because it is naked. It lost its feathers. The dinosaur is not naked because it has scales. Pink is not skin because it’s the wrong color.”

  30. PramgaticMom says:

    Color is very subjective. Here’s what color means by 2nd grade boys including my own. They are also an ethnically diverse rainbow. My son is Asian American, Akele is Black, Sam J is Caucasian, Simon B is Jewish. They has composed poems based on What is Red? by Mary O’Neill.
    http://www.pragmaticmom.com/2013/04/poetry-2nd-grade-boys/

    Here are several self portraits by my son. He uses flesh color for his skin.
    Hopes and Dreams as an 8-year-old http://www.pragmaticmom.com/2013/09/2nd-grade-hopes-and-dreams/

    Hopes and Dreams as a 7-year-old http://www.pragmaticmom.com/2013/09/2nd-grade-hopes-and-dreams/

    Here’s a self portrait of my son as a 4-year-old using markers not crayons in preschool. He used yellow for his skin color because the marker choices were limited to fat crayola washable markers which does not include flesh tones. His astronaut and line drawing self portrait is not filled in. Most kids would say that they prefer not coloring in humans because it’s too much work.

    My 11-year-old daughter would also note that she picks a color to represent human skin relative to what choice she is given … and she must be forced to draw a self portrait and instructed to color it in because otherwise she would use the paper as skin color. Why? It’s too much work to fill it in.

    So my point is that, yes, kids would choose pink for human skin color if you give them a limited palatte. They will gravitate towards yellow, pink and orange for skin color. They know it’s not skin color but are trying to follow instructions. If you give them multiracial colors that more accurately reflect their skin color, they would chose those over pink/yellow/orange. Why? Because, they are not stupid! It’s all about choice and options. Give them better options and they will use those.
    http://www.pragmaticmom.com/2013/05/kindergarten-readiness-free-printable/

  31. PramgaticMom says:

    Happy Thanksgiving, by the way. I think it’s wonderful that you purchased so many copies of this book. I glad that it’s included in this comment stream because from your review, I never would have guessed that.

  32. Lindsay M. Wessell says:

    Maybe so. Perhaps the root of my discomfort lies in the spelling of the word. I before E except after C, right? So what’s with “beige”? GET WITH THE PROGRAM, BEIGE!

    My 7th grade grammar textbook had this tip, and I’ve never forgotten it: “I before E except after C and sounding in “A” as in ‘neighbor’ and ‘weigh.’”

    So “beige” fits the rule! :-) So does feint, veil, their, heir, reign ….

    • Elizabeth Bird Elizabeth Bird says:

      Of all the comments to this book this is, by far, my favorite. If I could “like” a comment (as one does on Facebook) I would “like” the heck out of this one.

  33. dedicatedteacher says:

    I’m a primary school teacher and literacy team leader. This book serves as a powerful teaching tool for teaching social themes. It will support my year-long character education curriculum. I also use the book for teaching point of view and opinion. The book is engaging and humorous. The author and illustrator did a FANTASTIC job!

  34. PramgaticMom says:

    I think it’s a stretch to say that the colors in Drew’s crayon box are a subversive text on racism when the colors associated with people of color are clearly not all identified as such. I am Asian American. I am Chinese and Japanese American and I married a Korean. I can claim to understand racism against Asians — my mother was forced out of her home during WWII, for example, simply for being Japanese American and living in San Francisco. She is, I must note, an American citizen. After WWII, she worked for the U.S. government as a civil servant. Why? Before WWII, Asian Americans were prohibited from these jobs so it was an act of patriotism for her personally to work for the government.

    Yellow, as all Asian Americans, would surely confirm with me, is associated with Asian xenophobia that persists to this day. And yet, in Daywalt’s book, yellow represents the sun. If Daywalt’s had a racist agenda rather than looking at crayons from child’s point of view, yellow would have surely been something less obvious than the sun.

    I don’t take issue that yellow represents the sun in Daywalt’s and Jeffer’s crayon box. It is exactly what my three children think as well. In fact, where we live (Newton, MA), I notice that the kids in our elementary school are free of racial bias based on skin color. Likewise, they accept families of all different stripes including gay parents.

    My own kids would not realize that yellow is color of oppression and I think that speaks to how far we’ve come, at least in the part of the country that I live in.

    I guess my question is: are you reading into this book battles of race that you have fought that have left you scarred? That doesn’t make your review less legitimate but perhaps you are seeing things from a place of great sensitivity that most would not. In a way, it’s also a bias much like racism.

  35. Elizabeth Bird Elizabeth Bird says:

    In the review I do mention that there is no possible way to read a book, any book, through any lens but your own. This particular comment is actually a pitch perfect example of that. After all, I’m not making the point that the book is a great big racist slog. I’m saying that there are two potentially insensitive elements which I’m sure were unintentional but that could have some repercussions. There is, after all, a long history of crayons and depictions of skin tones. At no point could I even begin to claim anything to do with other colors. The red is not Native Americans. The black isn’t for black people. The yellow, as you say, has diddly over squat to do with people of Asian backgrounds. Yet when you read my review you interpreted it to mean that I believe the book to equate color with skin in any and all instances, and this we know is not the case.

    You conclude by saying that over sensitivity (something I myself mention as a possibility that I am prey to in the review) can be a bias that is similar to racism. And I’m sure that can, in some instances, be the case. However, can you honestly say that I am definitively saying that this is what the book is saying, or am I instead simply suggesting that this could be one interpretation and that someone who worked on the book during its creation should probably have at least considered the possibility of what I, myself, am bringing up? Because even if you disagree with my thoughts, can you honestly say that I am claiming that this is the only way to read this book? If I’m overly sensitive then I’m overly sensitive and that’s on me. That’s my personal problem. But I am by no means saying that you have to agree with me. I’m just offering an opinion here and opinions on the internet, as we have seen, can lead to many colorful (no pun intended) responses.

  36. PramgaticMom says:

    I guess for me to conclude that Daywalt’s book has racist elements (which I do not), I would have to see consistency. Yellow is Asian, Red is Native American, etc. And while there is a history of using colors to denote racial prejudice, it does seem, in this day and age, to have faded back.

    Racism is less about color and colors than just outright slanderous terms. In fact, it would feel really anachronistic to be called “yellow peril” though just last year someone called me Jap and Chink at Harvard Stadium of all places! Even those deragatory terms seem a little passe.

    In fact, I have an interesting story from my Asian Blog about The Slants, a rock band that is denied trademark rights because the name is racist. Nevermind that the band is made up entirely of Asian Americans who use this term as way to elevate racism into racial pride.

    The irony is that non-Asians have been successful in getting trademark for using Slant. Here’s a link:

    http://www.opb.org/news/article/the-slants-file-federal-lawsuit-seeking-trademark/

    As an Asian American, there are legitimate battles of racism to fight. I have blogged personally extensively on the 150 points on the SAT Asians must score in order to compete for a spot at top colleges. This bias against Asians in the top college admissions games has been going on for decades!

    I’m glad you are sensitive to racial issues but perhaps this was a “false positive.” You have stimulated a lively discussion about race which is a positive thing and The Day the Crayons Quit is on the NY Times bestsellers list so I am thinking, it’s all good!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] and diversity is a big issue in children’s book publishing (see NYPL’s Betsy Bird’s recent blog post and the ensuing debate in the [...]

  2. [...] one, and diversity is a big issue in children’s book publishing (see NYPL’s Betsy Bird’s recent blog post and the ensuing debate in the [...]

  3. [...] Read the School Library Journal review of: The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt [...]

  4. [...] overuses gray for elephants, etc. (If you want to see an online discussion jump the shark, look here for a many-month discussion of this [...]