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Sunday, May 3, 2015

Red: A Crayon's Story, written and illustrated by Michael Hall. Greenwillow Books, Harper. 2015. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"His teacher thought he
needed more practice.

I'll draw a red strawberry,
then you draw a red

You can do this.

But he couldn't, really."

When I read this winning book to classes while visiting schools for I Love To Read, I was very interested in the response that the children had to it. They were quite indignant that the blue crayon was being blamed for something he had no control over; it is an obvious case of mistaken identity. How was he to know he wasn't red? His label said red! That's the funny thing about labels, isn't it?

This book is a strong addition to the growing collection of beautifully designed and very appealing picture books Michael Hall has created since the publication of My Heart is Like a Zoo (Greenwillow, 2009). He followed that with Perfect Square (Greenwillow, 2011), Cat Tale (Greenwillow, 2012) and It's An Orange Aardvark!, just last year. If you haven't seen any of his previous books, you are in for a special treat. Check at the library, or your local bookstore to have a good look at them. You will be impressed!  

Now, to Red. It is, as advertised, A Crayon's Story.

The colors are bright, the images sharp, the dilemma obvious from the very beginning. It is deceptive in its simplicity, which is exactly what Michael Hall wanted when he wrote it. It's message is there for us to ponder as we read it. There are a host of voices expressing concern that Red is not actually 'very good' at being red. The pencil that is telling Red's story allows those who are part of the crayon box (family and friends) to have a say while we watch Red try his best to be what he is not.

Red is an excellent artist; it is just that his images do not meet the norm. The fire truck is blue, the hearts are blue, even the squiggles on the book's cover are blue. When colors are mixed, they do not look right. In fact, they can be disgusting to others. His audience is quick to share opinions and to give advice; Red does his best to take it.

"Sometimes I wonder if he's really red at all.

Don't be silly. It says red on his label.

He came that way from the factory.

Frankly, I don't think he's very bright.

Well, I think he's lazy.

Right! He's got to press harder."

Even a good sharpening does nothing to improve Red's lot.

A subtle message, beautifully shared. Finding out who he really is brings joy and freedom for Blue! Put this one on your Caldecott watch list, and don't be surprised when award season comes round to find it at or near the top of the final list. Thank you, Michael Hall!

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