Red is an amazing story, about a little crayon who is called Red, even though he’s blue on the inside. This is a book with layers, subtext and yet more layers, and every layer is wonderful.
The illustrations are simplistic, with large crayons and childish drawings on a clean background. Our narrator is a pencil, who, literally, writes the primary story.
Red can be read on different levels and adapted to be suitable for different ages. The pencil text creates a simple story about a being true to yourself, of self-discovery. To add an older dimension to the story you can add in the type written text, which adds a new dimension to this journey of self-discovery.
“Sometimes I wonder if he’s really red at all.”
“Don’t be silly it says red on his label.”
One of the adorable aspects of this story is the crayons themselves. Michael Hall has named them wonderfully, and presumably put a lot of thought into this with characters like Red’s grandparents who are Silver and Grey or the character that says “Right! He’s got to press harder” is Army Green. Then there is the comedic undertones, as in the crayon Berry who draws a boat that Red creates a sea for it to sail on, who gets the line “His blue ocean really lifted me”.
The big trick with this story is not to put adult context on a child’s interpretation. Where a child reads this story and can develop a sense of empowerment about being who they feel they are, it’s all too easy for an adult translate into our own warped ideas and connotations.
In saying that, this book enjoys poking holes in adult’s ideas and is one of the charming aspects of this story, it is also quite confronting. There are many ways that this book can be interpreted as an adult, from gender balance or homophobia to a more simplistic pigeon-holing most adults have experienced, and put others, particularly children, through. This is particularly powerful within the illustrations. For example “I thought he wasn’t sharp enough” is backed up with the image of a pencil shaving chunks off the crayon in a pencil sharpener. In a childish and literal context of a pencil being sharpened this is perfectly innocent. Yet in the adult context, we can see something being forced and shaped until they fit a mould that is far from true to themselves.
Like all good stories, this one has a happy ending, with our little red crayon being celebrated for being true to himself, and finding out that who he is in the inside is just perfect. It’s a heart-warming moment, and provides a great conclusion to a potentially confronting story.
Absolutely essential reading for anyone with a child that likes to dance to their own drum.
by Alison Sammes
Red: A Crayon’s Story
by Michael Hall
Published by Greenwillow Books