The Day the Crayons Quit
“The creators of The Day the Crayons Quit seem to be hoping readers won’t mind that they’ve colored a bit outside the lines.”
The Day the Crayons Quit has a lot going for it, but truth in advertising isn’t one of them.
The book is not actually about a day crayons quit, nor even a day they staged a picket line with droll protest signs (“Down with this sort of thing”), as depicted on the eye-catching front/back cover. The book is actually about the day a boy named Duncan finds a stack of letters with his name on them, letters that turn out to contain a litany of complaints from the disgruntled crayons in his box.
Granted, The Day the Crayons Complained is a far less compelling title, but this marketing sleight-of-hand feels disingenuous because it implies an intriguing level of conflict that simply isn’t delivered. The back cover text reads, “The Battle Lines are Drawn,” which cleverly, but just as misleadingly, promises real fireworks.
Salesmanship aside, the crayon’s complaints are often, if not droll, amusing.
Red is exhausted. “I have to color ALL the Santas at Christmas and ALL the hearts on Valentines day!” he rants. Purple, perhaps a bit OCD, threatens to “completely lose it” if forced to continue coloring outside the lines. White is depressed about only being used for, well, white space, and orange and yellow are in a spat about which is the rightful color of the sun. Perhaps the funniest is Peach, who is embarrassed about having been left naked when Duncan inexplicably peeled off his wrapper (“I don’t even wear underwear!”).
Each letter is accompanied by pleasing, kid-authentic crayon drawings by Oliver Jeffers, the award-winning author/illustrator of many books, including The Incredible Book Eating Boy. The bright, monochromatic drawings jump off mostly white backgrounds. It’s an accomplishment to have created perfectly believable childish drawings, but the perhaps inevitable result is that Duncan’s artwork, like most children’s, is cute but not particularly memorable.
The real problem with the book is that the letters begin to feel tedious. This happens for two reasons. First, there is no escalating sense of tension (or hilarity). The letters could be in any order with no real change to their overall effect.
More significantly, the complaints begin to overlap. Both Pink and White regret their lack of use, and Red, Gray, and Blue all complain, essentially, about overuse (though, oddly, only Blue seems to be physically affected—he’s stubby now). After a half dozen letters, one wonders where it is all going, yet another half dozen follow with mostly diminishing returns.
Finally, the ending is a bit unsatisfying. Duncan, we’re told, “just wanted to color . . . and of course he wanted his crayons to be happy.” We’re then presented with his solution, a lovely two-page beach scene that creatively uses every crayon to cheerful effect.
The picture reflects Duncan’s attempts to appease his crayons. For example, he acceded to Black’s request for a black beach ball and rainbow, as well as Beige’s and White’s requests to color new things. But the thoughtful reader will note that neither Blue, Red, nor Gray got the rest they requested.
With this less than neat conclusion, the book comes full circle. The creators of The Day the Crayons Quit seem to be hoping readers won’t mind that they’ve colored a bit outside the lines. Those who like a little messiness will no doubt enjoy the book. But to the purples out there, be warned: You may completely (or maybe just partially) lose it.