Review Blog

May 07 2015

Red, a crayon's story by Michael Hall

cover image

HarperCollins, 2015. ISBN 9780062252074
(Age: K-6) His label clearly states he is Red. But sadly, he wasn't very good at being red. In fact, whenever he was asked to be red as in a fire truck or a strawberry he was the exact opposite - he was very blue. His mother Olive thought he should mix more with others so she introduced him to Yellow and suggested they make an orange - but instead it was greenish. His grandmother Silver gave him a warm red scarf for the school portraits - but that didn't help. The other crayons begin to gossip thinking Red just needs to try harder, although Sunshine suggests he just needs more time. But no matter what, even with the interventions of the other art supplies, Red just didn't. Until one day Red meets Berry.
This is one of the most amazing picture books I've encountered in a long time. It is superficially simple but there are so many layers to it that every read reveals something new. The narrator is depicted as a simple, everyday lead pencil and the other characters are the crayons in their coloured wrappers whose comments not only bring them alive but also match who they are - for example Army Green suggest Red has 'to press harder' while Fuchsia thinks red is 'not very bright'. Set against a black background with white text, the colours pop from the page and on those pages where Red and the others draw, the pictures are very reminiscent of the drawings of the very young. But there is so much more to this than a picture book with visual appeal that introduces children to colours.
It has a message about celebrating difference, not judging things by their appearance and the danger of labelling that we can all learn from. It celebrates diversity and difference. Building on a recent experience, my first thought was that this could be perfect for a transgender child. It's most powerful message is 'be yourself' and be happy about being different, a message emphasized by Angelina Jolie at the Nickelodeon Awards. Knowing who you are and being true to yourself is so much more important than the opinions of others, such a basic foundation of strong mental health for all ages.
If this were an Australian book, I'd expect to see it shortlisted for the CBCA Picture Book of the Year - it is brilliant.
Barbara Braxton

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