Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall Download (read online) free eBook

Red: A Crayon's Story

A blue crayon mistakenly labeled as “red” suffers an identity crisis in the new picture book by the New York Times–bestselling creator of My Heart Is Like a Zoo and It’s an Orange Aardvark! Funny, insightful, and colorful, Red: A Crayon’s Story, by Michael Hall, is about being true to your inner self and following your own path despite obstacles that may come your way. Red

Nov 03, 2015

rated it
it was amazing

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This book for children about being transgender, is

Wait, what? I thought this was about crayons.

Yes. A blue crayon with a red label. A crayon that “presents” as red but colors blue and leaves everyone confused and baffled.

I mean, no matter what Red tries to do, he colors blue. That’s just him. He’s blue. Even though he’s in a red label. However, neither him nor any of his friends and family can understand this.

His teacher thought he needed more practice.

She encourages him to draw strawberries, b

Wait, what? I thought this was about crayons.

Yes. A blue crayon with a red label. A crayon that “presents” as red but colors blue and leaves everyone confused and baffled.

I mean, no matter what Red tries to do, he colors blue. That’s just him. He’s blue. Even though he’s in a red label. However, neither him nor any of his friends and family can understand this.

His teacher thought he needed more practice.

She encourages him to draw strawberries, but of course they turn out blue. She’s shocked, but encourages him to try again. Perhaps next time he can get it right.

His mother thought he needed to mix with other colors.

She brings Yellow over and coos, “Why don’t you two go out and draw a nice, round orange.”

Red agrees enthusiastically, wanting to please his mom and hoping beyond hope this will work.

However, needless to say, him mixing with Yellow doesn’t make an orange, it makes a big greenish ball. (Because Red is really blue.) This prompts Yellow to say, “Yuck.” reinforcing Red’s idea that there’s something wrong with him and that he’s basically disgusting as a person.

His grandparents thought he wasn’t warm enough.

They give him a red scarf to keep warm and look more “red.” You know, like he’s supposed to be. Red. But when Red draws a class portrait for school, of course the whole thing (him AND his scarf) are blue. His grandparents are shocked.

Everyone seemed to have something to say.

AMBER: “Sometimes I wonder if he’s really red at all.”

HAZELNUT: “Don’t be silly. It says red on his label.”

COCOA BEAN: “He came that way from the factory.”

FUCHSIA: “Frankly, I don’t think he’s very bright.”

GRAPE: “Well, I think he’s lazy.”

ARMY GREEN: “Right! He’s got to press harder.”

STEEL GRAY: “Really apply himself!”

SUNSHINE: “Give him time. He’ll catch on.”

SEA GREEN: “Of course he will.”

Now, whether these people are being “kind” or “tough” on our “misbehaving” schoolboy, what they are failing to see (but what children will clearly see) is that the crayon is simply mislabeled. It’s a blue crayon. It’s blue. It doesn’t matter that it’s label says, “Red” – that doesn’t change the fact that the crayon is a blue crayon and can’t possibly be anything else no matter how “hard” he tries.

All Red’s friends try to “help” him. Masking Tape tapes him. Scissors cuts his label a tiny bit. Pencil Sharpener sharpens him. However, obviously none of these actions change the blue crayon to a red one.

Red works and works and works and fights and fights and fights being blue. Much as our society and our religions encourage transgender people to “fight their sin” and “fight their nature” and “work hard to correct yourself” and “fit in.” Needless to say, this doesn’t do Red the least bit of good.

One day, he met a new friend.

BERRY: “Will you make a blue ocean for my boat?”

RED: “I can’t. I’m red.”

BERRY: “Will you try?”

So he did.

BERRY: “Thank you! It’s perfect!”

RED: “You’re welcome. It was easy!”

And he didn’t stop there.

Suddenly, Red can’t stop drawing! He gleefully draws bluebells, blue jeans, blue birds, bluberries, and even a giant blue whale.

“I’m blue!” He screams joyfully!!!!! Somebody’s finally seen through all the labels and the bullshit and has freed Red from the prison he’s been in.

He was red blue.

And everyone was talking.

OLIVE: “My son is brilliant!”

AMBER: “Who could have known he was blue?”

HAZELNUT: “I always said he was blue.”

COCOA BEAN: “It was obvious!”

BERRY: “His blue ocean really lifted me.”

SEA GREEN: “All of his work makes me happy.”

BROWN: “His blue strawberries are my favorites.”

APPLE GREEN: “He’s so intense.”

YELLOW: “I’m going to make a green lizard with him. A really big one.”

GRAY: “I hear he’s working on a huge project.”

SCARLET: “He’s really reaching for the sky.”

Now, I think we – as adults – can realize that this is not the way it would play out in real life. All these people are accepting and celebratory upon hearing the news that Red is blue inside. They don’t disown him, hate him, judge him, beat him, spit on him, murder him, rape him, or drive him to suicide. However, I’m sure we can all agree that that would be a pretty depressing children’s book. Perhaps the author is trying to create a world in which people don’t have such a violent, angry, and terrified view of transgendered individuals as they do today. We can only hope. I’ve seen great strides just in the last 10 years, so there is a possibility things will be as idealistic as this book makes out one day.

NOTE: Children aren’t going to know this is about transgender people. I’ve seen this book make adults weep openly, but children aren’t going to get that. Instead, the child will be delighted when – imbued with a God-like power – he or she can see straight into the true core of the individual: he’s a blue crayon in a red label.

I notice that the book doesn’t try to “re-label” Red. He starts off as blue in a red label, he ends as blue in a in a red label – just one who is self-aware and happy, now. There’s no move to strip him of his red label and put a blue one on him. This is important, I think. If Red later chooses to wear a blue label instead of a red one, that will be his choice.

I think it’s important to read this book to children, but you might want to gauge how much you strip away the thin veneer of color and explicitly make it about transgendered people. It’s up to you, it is your choice, based on your child and what you think your child can handle.

I’m also unclear as to where religion falls in this. Is the book saying that “God” (the factory) make a mistake in labeling Red? Or is Red extra-special, unique and brilliant for being someone who has a red label but a blue “soul?” Of course, if you are raising your child in the Christian faith (just my two cents here) the most important thing is to teach compassion, mercy and love. None of this soul-destroying ‘love the person, hate the ‘sin” trash (‘sin’ is in quotes because even thinking that word in regards to transgender people makes my blood boil) that is so common now. I think it’s clear in the book that Red’s family and friends love him and care about him, and when it becomes obvious to them that Red is blue, they rejoice in his specialness and his unique gifts. They love Red, they want him to be happy, they cheer and rejoice when their friend is free and happily expressing his true self. That is love. That is the true nature of Christianity (IMO).

Why are we talking about religion and Christianity, Carmen?

Yeah… I know. I’m sorry, but I can’t help but think (when I think about the transgender people I know) that religion is A1 when it comes to excusing hatred, violence and terror as a reaction to someone who is not meeting gender norms. I think it’s super-important to realize that Christianity should be, at its core, about love, acceptance and community. When my father said about someone, “He did the Christian thing,” my father was ALWAYS talking about being merciful, compassionate and loving. Never in my household was hate or cruelty held up as good examples of being a worshiper of Christ, and it really saddens me to see that about 90% of Christianity today is used to make people feel like shit about themselves.

Are you even Christian?

No comment.

Are you even atheist?

No comment.

Do you even math, bro?


Then… what the hell are you talking about?

I’m talking about the fact that although the majority of people believe that being Christian involves being a judgmental asshole, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Anyway, I’m getting off-topic.

Tl;dr – Children aren’t going to “get this.” I think it’s important to teach this message to children (be true to yourself, your inner self is beautiful and special) but they are NOT going to get that it’s about transgender people unless you explicitly tell them. In a way, this book is more for adults than for children. However, I think it’s a good and important book. Doubly so if your child has a little transgender friend in his/her class. In that case, please spell it out for them.

Even without the knowledge of what ‘transgender’ is, children will delight in their ability to clearly see what all the foolish and misguided crayons can’t see – the obvious fact that Red is a blue crayon. You can talk about how clothes don’t make the man, how it’s important not to judge people on their appearances. You could use it to illustrate gender roles or to express the importance of celebrating a person’s true gifts (even if that gift doesn’t “fit” with a person’s physical appearance – think of Binky Barnes being an accomplished ballet dancer on Arthur). There’s so much to talk about here without talking about being transgender, but this book IS without a doubt about transgender people.

Why did the factory ‘mislabel’ Red? OR DID IT? (dum dum DUM)

Why were the other crayons so confused and baffled on how to ‘handle’ or ‘teach’ Red when they were blind to his true color?

Why do crayons even NEED labels at all? Do they? What purpose do labels serve? What if all the crayons just ripped off their labels and ran around naked? Would that be a good idea or a bad idea? Why?

This is a rare book that clearly has a message but isn’t preachy. You can completely ignore all issues and just read it as a straight-up children’s book that’s simply about crayons if you want. No one’s going to force you to talk to your kid about gender identity if you don’t want to. I’ve read this to many Catholic schoolkids without a peep about transgender issues. It’s a good book with a good message no matter what, you need to decide based on your audience whether to broach the transgender discussion or not.

Read it, enjoy it, and take from it whatever you want. 🙂

Ages 0-6. However, there is no upper age limit if you are using this as a tool to teach someone about gender identity. It can work wonderfully to illustrate this concept even to adults.


Mar 29, 2015

rated it
it was amazing


Almost since their very conception children’s books were meant to teach and inform on the one hand, and to inform one’s moral fiber on the other. Why who can forget that catchy little 1730 ditty from The Childe’s Guide that read, “The idle Fool / Is whipt at School”? It’s got a beat and you can dance to it! And as the centuries have passed children’s books continue to teach and instruct. Peter Rabbit takes an illicit nosh and loses his fancy duds. Pinocchio stretches the truth a little and ends

“He was red. But he wasn’t very good at it.” When a blue crayon in a wrapper labeled “Red” finds himself failing over and over again, everyone around him has an opinion on the matter. Maybe he needs to mix with the other kids more (only, when he does his orange turns out to be green instead). Maybe he just needs more practice. Maybe his wrapper’s not tight enough. Maybe it’s TOO tight. Maybe he’s got to press harder or be sharper. It really isn’t until a new crayon asks him to paint a blue sea that he comes to the shocking realization. In spite of what his wrapper might say, he isn’t red at all. He’s blue! And once that’s clear, everything else falls into place.

A school librarian friend of mine discussed this book with some school age children not too long ago. According to her, their conversation got into some interesting territory. Amongst themselves they questioned why the crayon got the reaction that he did. One kid said it was the fault of the factory that had labeled him. Another kid countered that no, it was the fault of the other crayons for not accepting him from the start. And then one kid wondered why the crayon needed a label in the first place. Now I don’t want to go about pointing out the obvious here but basically these kids figured out the whole book and rendered this review, for all intents and purposes, moot. They got the book. They understand the book. They should be the ones presenting the book.

Because you see when I first encountered this story I applied my very very adult (and very very limited) interpretation to it. A first read and I was convinced that it was a transgender coming-of-age narrative except with, y’know, waxy drawing materials. And I’m not saying that isn’t a legitimate way to read the book, but it’s also a very limited reading. I mean, let’s face it. If Mr. Hall had meant to book to be JUST about transgender kids, wouldn’t it have been a blue crayon in a pink wrapper? No, Hall’s story is applicable to a wide range of people who find themselves incorrectly “labeled”. The ones who are told that they’re just not trying hard enough, even when it’s clear that the usual rules don’t apply. We’ve all known someone like that in our lives before. Sometimes they’re lucky in the way that Red here is lucky and they meet someone who helps to show them the way. Sometimes they help themselves. And sometimes there is no help and the story takes a much sadder turn. I think of those kids, and then I read the ending of “Red” again. It doesn’t help their situation much, but it makes me feel better.

This isn’t my first time on the Michael Hall rodeo, by the way. I liked My Heart Is Like a Zoo, enjoyed Perfect Square, took to Cat Tale, and noted It’s an Orange Aardvark It’s funny, but in a way, these all felt like a prelude to Red. As with those books, Hall pays his customary attention to color and shape. Like Perfect Square he even mucks with our understood definitions. But while those books were all pleasing to the eye, Red makes a sudden lunge for hearts and minds as well. That it succeeds is certainly worth noting.

Now when I was a kid, I ascribed to inanimate objects a peculiar level of anthropomorphizing. A solo game of war turned a deck of cards into a high stakes emotional journey worthy of a telenovela. And crayons? Crayons had their own lives as well. There were a lot of betrayals and broken hearts in my little yellow box. Hall eschews this level of crayon obsession, but in his art I noticed that he spends a great deal of time understanding what a crayon’s existence might entail if they were allowed families and full lives. I loved watching how the points on the crayons would dull or how some crayons were used entirely on a slant, due to the way they colored. I liked how the shorter you are, the older you are (a concept that basically turned my 3-year-old’s world upside down when she tried to comprehend it). I liked how everything that happens to Red stays with him throughout the book. If his wrapper is cut or he’s taped together, that snip and tape stay with him to the end. The result is that by the time he’s figured out his place in the world (and shouldn’t we all be so lucky) he bears the physical cuts and scars that show he’s had a long, hard journey getting to self-acceptance. No mean feat for a book that primarily utilizes just crayon drawings and cut paper, digitally combined.

Not everyone thinks, as I do, that Mr. Hall’s effort is successful. I’ve encountered at least one librarian who told me straight out that she found the book “preachy”. I can see why she’d say that. I mean, it does wear its message on its sleeve. Yet for all that it has a purpose I can’t call it purposeful. What Hall has done so well here is to take a universal story and tell it with objects that almost every reader approaching this book will already be familiar with. These crayons don’t have faces or arms or mouths. They look like the crayons you encounter all the time, yet they live lives that may be both familiar and unfamiliar to readers. And in telling a very simple fish-out-of-water story, it actually manages to make kids think about what the story is actually trying to say. It makes readers work for its point. This isn’t bibliotherapy. It’s bibliodecoding. And when they figure out what’s going on, they get just as much out of it as you might hope. A rare, wonderful title that truly has its child audience in mind. Respectful.

For ages 3 and up.