By: Amber Leventry
I tend to look for meaning in everything; it’s part of my over analyzing and anxious way of understanding the world. Much like interpreting my horoscope or a fortune inside of a cookie, I try to find lessons and knowledge hidden in many places. One of my favorite places to find understanding is in children’s books. Sometimes it takes simple, yet thoughtful language and a child’s perspective to really find a healthy perspective of our own on the important things in life. Bestselling author Michael Hall’s picture book, Red: A Crayon’s Story, is a master class about the courageous and persistent journey to our authentic inner selves. As told by a pencil, about a crayon.
“He was red. But he wasn’t very good at it…His teacher thought he needed more practice. I’ll draw a red strawberry, then you draw a red strawberry. You can do this. Really!”
Red’s label, his factory given label, pronounced him red. Yet whenever Red tried to be what everyone thought he should be, he seemed to fail. His parents, teachers, and friends insisted that Red needed to work harder and keep trying. He would get it someday. The art supplies thought he needed to be fixed.
It turns out, what Red really needed was a friend to ask the right question. “Will you make a blue ocean for my boat?” Berry asked. Red didn’t think he could. After being told what he was for so long, even he didn’t believe he was capable of being blue. With some encouragement from his buddy, Red found himself. In the depth of an ocean, the wings of a blue bird, and the infinite space of the sky, Red found his truth. He was blue.
Oh, Michael Hall, you clever and witty guy. Yes. Without using any labels to identify what the identity crisis is, Hall tells a story that applies to everyone looking for the confidence to be happy no matter what others think. Or what others tell us we should be. From the clothes we wear, the professions we choose, to the people we love or the gender we feel, we are all trying to nurture a seed of identity that will blossom into who we were always meant to be.
Thankfully, Hall’s nuggets of wisdom—and his sweet and imaginative take on geometric shapes—can be found in several other books. My Heart Is Like a Zoo encourages you and your child to talk about feelings while reading about a silly seal, an angry bear, and a peaceful, portly walrus.
I think my favorite Michael Hall book is Perfect Square. Square was perfectly happy with four matching and equal sides. But when the square was poked, shredded, or shattered it found a way to become something new, something beautiful. Perfect Square speaks to a reminder we all need: the world is what we make of it, and sometimes what we need to make is room for flexibility.
These important lessons of kindness, acceptance, love, and patience found in the great children’s books should really be the ones we aim to perfect too.
Hall’s next book, Frankencrayon is due out soon. According to HarperCollins Publishers, it is a book “about seeing beauty in unexpected places.” I expect it will be a beauty in itself.