Red: A Crayon's Story by Michael Hall

Before I write anything else, I need to say thank you to Michael Hall. Thank you for giving this amazing gift of a book to children and to adults: for those of us who need to  retool (or, even better, drop altogether) our expectations and especially for those of those of us who struggle under those expectations.

Red: A Crayon's Story by Michael Hall is his best yet, and that's saying a lot because his second book, Perfect Square, is one of my favorites (see below for links to reviews). Hall has a way of presenting big concepts - like perception and how we choose to view things - in an effortless way. His stories and illustrations work wonderfully on the surface, but often have deeper meanings that are thoughtful conversation starters. 

In Red: A Crayon's Story, which is narrated by a pencil, a blue crayon in a red wrapper tries his best to meet everyone else's expectations - from his teacher to his mother to his grandparents and friends. Red: A Crayon's Story begins, "He was red, but he wasn't very good at it."

Red's mother, Olive - pay close attention because Hall is so subtly clever in this book - thinks he should mix with other colors. But a plan to draw a really big, really orange orange ends with a greenish blob. Hall uses the word "really" often and to great effect, especially on the last page of the book.

Despite repeated efforts by all involved and comments from a whole range of colors, Red cannot seem to meet expectations. The art supplies think that some external attention might solve the problem, and the metaphors that Hall uses in this section are seamless and perfect for unpacking. Maybe Red is broken inside and needs tape. Or maybe his label is on too tight. Pencil thinks that Red is not sharp enough. Finally, a crayon sees Red in a different way. Berry, who has drawn a boat, asks Red to make a blue ocean to go with it. Hesitant at first, Red gives it a try and finds it easy! Rejoicing, Red goes on to draw all things blue instead of all the red things his friends and family were demanding of him, including the sky.

My immediate thought the first time I read Red: A Crayon's Story to myself, I thought, "This is an amazing story to read to a transgender child." Of course, Red: A Crayon's Story is destined to be a classic along the lines of Robert Krauss's Leo the Late Bloomer, but it is so much more. Yet Hall's story is so straightforward and simple that it can be applied to so many situations where expectations cause frustration. It's about labeling and square pegs being forced into round holes, but in the gentlest way possible. I read it out loud to several classes of students this week, from kindergardener to fourth graders and got choked up every time Berry saw something in Red that no one else did and helped him to discover himself. I am putting this masterpiece on the shelves of my school library right away, then buying one for my home library. I have a feeling this is a book I will have cause to read often.

Michael Hall's other books 
with links to my reviews:

In this review I also discuss Hall's first two books, Perfect Square and My Heart is Like a Zoo

Source: Review Copy

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