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The Story Behind "The Day the Crayons Quit"

DayCrayonsQuit300One of my favorite picture books this year is The Day the Crayons Quit. Drew Daywalt's story of crayon revolt, told through letters from the various colors, made me laugh out loud and put a new spin on a ubiquitous piece of childhood. I'm also a huge fan of Oliver Jeffers and he rarely illustrates books by other authors, so that says something about how special this one is. 

Oliver and Drew sat down for a little Q&A about their book and Oliver was kind enough to share a never-before-seen sketch that didn't make it into the book.  Once you've read The Day the Crayons Quit, you will never look at the old familiar green and yellow (or is it orange?) box in the same way.


Drew Daywalt:

Q: What was the inspiration behind this book?

DW: I was sitting in my studio one day, looking at my crayons, and noticed how unevenly I’d been using them. And as I sat there, they seemed to take on personalities. Red and Blue were overused, Peach didn’t have a paper wrapper anymore. White looked sad. Green seemed so content.  Black and Pink were barely touched. And the longer I sat there staring at them, the more human they became. Their story, then, seemed obvious.

Q: Tell us about your favorite childhood memory involving crayons.

DW: On the first day of first grade we were told to color an apple on a hand-out we were all given. I was one of those kids who pressed really hard with my crayons and I made it the shiniest, darkest, waxiest red apple I could, and at the end, the teacher held it up for the class and said what a nice job I’d done. It was one of the few times I was ever spotlighted in school. That was day one of my love for crayons because I felt special whenever I created with them.

Q: What do you like best about Oliver’s artwork for the book?

DW: Oliver has the most efficient style I’ve seen in a long time. With just a few strokes of his crayon, he has created incredibly strong emotions on the faces of all the characters. It would be easy to miss the complexity and depth of Oliver’s art because of his simplicity, but therein lies his excellence

Oliver Jeffers: OliverJeffersCrayonSketchExclusive

Q: It’s rare for you to illustrate a book that you didn’t also write.  What interested you most about this manuscript and made you want to illustrate it?

OJ:  It's an interesting story, how this came to be. My editor knows I'd normally not even  consider looking at a manuscript from someone else, so he didn't attempt normal measures. Instead, during a meeting in his office, he needed to excuse himself from the room with these words 'Be back in 5 minutes. Please don't look at anything on my desk.' So, clearly the first thing I did was look at his desk. This manuscript was sat on top, and as soon as I read it I knew what I would do.

One of the reasons it appealed so strongly was its structure. I am normally quite vocal about the advantage of being in a position where I both write and illustrate picture books, in that the pictures have an opportunity to inform the words rather than it being a strictly one way street. In this case, however, given that the vast majority of the text was given over to the letters of protest written by crayons, the visual solution they demanded be the centre of the action, and, in a way, it was liberating to simply visually react rather than become concerned whether something was better being shown rather than said. 

Q: Tell us about your favorite childhood memory involving crayons.

OJ: The time my younger brother hid every single left shoe I had, and I hit him perfectly on the forehead with an amber brown crayon from a distance of 20 feet.

Q: From an artist’s perspective, what is the most gratifying part of illustrating a book that encourages creativity and focuses on a medium that all kids have access to and experiences with?

OJ: Simply that, the accessibility of it all. There are no bells and whistles. The whole book is drawn with crayons onto different types of pieces of paper. The hard part was trying to remember what it was like before I learned how to properly draw. I had to go to a few 5 year old friends for help with that.

Comments

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The Day Crayons Quit is a superb children's book by author Drew Daywalt and illustrator Oliver Jeffers. Crayons articulated their concerns confidently in writing without sensing repercussions, and held optimistic morale to not quit. Ultimately, crayons respected what they each needed to do to share the same landscape without believing their boldness was most important. Duncan was humbled to listen and inspired to color the landscape to excellence. A must read laughing with children.

Lessons learned: teamwork, candor, humbleness, leadership, performance.

Great Q&A! Looks like a wonderful book, too. Will have to see if our local library has it for our two young kids. :)

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