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Find more Classroom Connections
Help young readers explore art and identity through these picture books that take a more literal approach, bringing writing instruments to life.
When discussing writing and art, a great compliment one might give is that the work “comes alive.” In the case of these picture books, the authors and illustrators take that saying literally and make crafting tools, such as pencils, crayons, paint brushes, and erasers, the main characters. While the results are often humorous, with pencils and erasers at odds, these instruments also become apt metaphors for understanding how to collaborate, make friends, accept—and even embrace—mistakes, discover one’s identity, or recognize self-worth. In the process, writing and art don’t simply come alive but help children learn to live.
The Case of the Missing Chalk Drawings. By Richard Byrne. Illus. by the author. 2018. Holt, $17.99 (9781250189592). K–Gr. 2.
When a set of outraged colored chalk calls in Sergeant Blue to find out who’s been stealing their flower drawings, he gets to the (literal) bottom of the case: an eraser’s dusty bottom, to be precise. The misunderstood eraser helps the chalk realize that erasing lets them “draw more stuff!” Black backgrounds suggest a chalkboard and emphasize the brightly colored tracks of the cartoonish chalk figures.
The Day the Crayons Came Home. By Drew Daywalt. Illus. by Oliver Jeffers. 2015. Philomel, $18.99 (9780399172755). K–Gr. 3.
In this humorous sequel to The Day the Crayons Quit (2013), the crayons are back. Well, not all of them. Postcards to Duncan reveal their fates, such as Maroon Crayon, who’s been lost under the couch; Brown, who’s morose after having been used to draw bear poop; and Glow-in-the-Dark Green, who was left in the basement. Their reunion leads to an imaginative final spread and a new home.
The Day the Crayons Quit. By Drew Daywalt. Illus. by Oliver Jeffers. 2013. Philomel, $17.99 (9780399255373). K–Gr. 3.
Duncan’s crayons are on strike! In individual letters, each crayon details its grievance: Red is tired, Beige is bored, Black is misunderstood, etc. A blend of realistic and childlike crayon drawings highlights their emotions. A final spread relieves the tension, as Duncan fills a page with bright, delightful imagery, addressing all of the crayons’ issues and forcing them into colorful cooperation.
Eraser. By Anna Kang. Illus. by Christopher Weyant. 2018. Amazon/Two Lions, $17.99 (9781503902589). PreS–Gr. 2.
Silly puns and energetic cartoonish illustrations abound in this tale of Eraser. While Pencil and her friends are smart and creative, the disgruntled, pink rubber Eraser sweeps up mistakes as part of the cleanup crew. Tired of being Pencil’s “pooper-scooper,” Eraser leaves in a huff, landing in a heap of crumpled first drafts, where she learns that mistakes are great and her gift is giving second chances.
The Eraserheads. By Kate Banks. Illus. by Boris Kulikov. 2010. Farrar/Frances Foster, $16.99 (9780374399207). PreS–Gr. 2.
As a boy struggles with his homework, three animal-shaped erasers (a crocodile, an owl, and a pig) rub out his mistakes. Enhanced with mixed-media illustrations that play with story borders, wild adventures begin when the boy ditches his homework for drawing, sending the erasers through imagined worlds. When they’re nearly drowned, the boy sketches a boat that floats them to safety.
The Forgotten Crayon. By Yoko Maruyama. Illus. by the author. 2020. Minedition, $17.99 (9789888341986). PreS–Gr. 2.
Throughout the seasons, Lucas uses all his crayons—except the white one, which is shocked to hear that the boy wants a new box. When a girl buys his old ones at a yard sale, she’s thrilled with the tall white crayon, who’s equally happy to become a resist with her watercolor paintings. Like the text, which lightly personifies the crayons, the luminous, soft-textured artwork is quiet in approach.
Frankencrayon. By Michael Hall. Illus. by the author. 2016. Greenwillow, $17.99 (9780062252111). K–Gr. 2.
Hall’s anthropomorphic crayons are prepared to put on their own version of Frankenstein when a giant scribble appears. It seems there’s no recourse but to cancel the book (and the show)—but wait: three crayons taped together for the role of the Frankencrayon monster have been waiting patiently on page 22 for their big entrance. With their quick thinking and problem solving, the show goes on!
Linus the Little Yellow Pencil. By Scott Magoon. Illus. by the author. 2019. Little, Brown, $16.99 (9781368006279). K–Gr. 2.
When Linus, a yellow no. 2 pencil, competes in the “family art show,” his other half, Ernie the red eraser, denigrates and erases everything Linus draws. The narration, packed with art-related puns and enthusiastic illustrations, follows Linus as he enters a pencil sharpener and receives some pointed advice. When the two ends of the pencil learn to cooperate, they create something beautiful together.
The Little Red Pen. By Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel. Illus. by Janet Stevens. 2011. HMH, $16.99 (9780152064327). PreS–Gr. 2.
In this spin on the folktale “The Little Red Hen,” accompanied by detailed, mixed-media illustrations, bossy Little Red Pen needs help correcting homework, but the supplies in the desk drawer have pun-filled excuses. Taking charge on her own, Little Red Pen works tirelessly until she rolls into the trash can, “The Pit of No Return.” Her duty-shirking friends then muster teamwork to save her.
Little Red Writing. By Joan Holub. Illus. by Melissa Sweet. 2013. Chronicle, $16.99 (9780811878692). K–Gr. 3.
When Ms. 2 informs her class of pencils that they’re writing a story, Little Red sets off with her basket of 15 words. In this take on “Little Red Riding Hood,” she encounters a forest of description, interrupts run-ons, and verbs her way to Principal Granny’s office, just in time to foil the electrical teeth of the Wolf 3000 pencil sharpener. Sweet’s colorful visual chaos helps interpret this writing prompt.
My Crayons Talk. By Patricia Hubbard. Illus. by G. Brian Karas. 1996. Holt, $7.99 (9780805061505). PreS–Gr. 1.
Using bursts of rhythmic, rhyming text, a girl with short red hair and a big smile describes what her human-size crayons say about colors. For instance, “Purple shouts, ‘Yum! / Bubble gum,’” while “Orange asks, ‘Sweet, / May I eat?’” A refrain encourages listeners to chime in during read-alouds. Karas’ childlike illustrations are rendered in mixed media, including crayon, of course. Jennifer A. Ericsson’s A Piece of Chalk (2007) similarly combines chalk and colors.
Pencil: A Story with a Point. By Ann Ingalls. Illus. by Dean Griffiths. 2019. Pajama, $17.95 (9781772780475). K–Gr. 2.
Jackson, a budding African American artist, and his pencil are best friends until the boy becomes captivated by Tablet. Soon Pencil is tossed in the junk drawer and nearly forgotten until big sister Jasmine needs a rubber band. In this pun-filled story, accompanied by cartoonish office supplies, Pencil finds a way to redeem himself and, when Tablet cracks, to reintroduce Jackson to his love of art.
Pencil’s Perfect Picture. By Jodi McKay. Illus. By Juliana Motzko. 2019. Albert Whitman, $16.99 (9780807564769). PreS–Gr. 2.
Pencil wants to honor its dad with a perfect drawing. To figure out what that means, Pencil heads to a school, where different drawing instruments give their advice. For instance, Brush paints for pleasure and Marker just does its best. Pencil blends these tips, and the dad sees perfection in the drawing because it came from Pencil. Cheery, digital illustrations simulate paint, pastel, and other media.
Perfect. By Max Amato. Illus. by the author. Scholastic, $16.99 (9780545829311). PreS–Gr. 1.
An eraser stands confidently against a blank, white page until a pencil draws squiggles and smudges. Although annoyed Eraser chases Pencil away, Pencil returns, filling the whole page with graphite. Eraser is dismayed until its movements create shapes in the Pencil’s mess. A combination of photos, hand-drawn elements, and wordless panels help celebrate their collaboration and friendship.
Red: A Crayon’s Story. By Michael Hall. Illus. by the author. 2015. Greenwillow, $17.99 (9780062252074). PreS–Gr. 2.
Red is blue—he can’t seem to color anything correctly. Everyone is afraid there is something wrong with Red until Purple, who has drawn a boat, asks him to draw a blue ocean. Children who know their colors will immediately see what’s wrong: Red’s paper sleeve has been mistakenly put on a blue crayon! Eye-catching scribblings match the emotional elements of the tale as Red finally takes pride in his success.
When Pencil Met Eraser. By Karen Kilpatrick and Luis O. Ramos Jr. Illus. by Germán Blanco. 2019. Macmillan/Imprint, $17.99 (9781250309396). PreS–Gr. 1.
Pencil likes to craft his art alone, but Eraser loves to erase, of course, and happily adds a sky to Pencil’s city scene, makes a path through a meadow, and turns a turbulent sea into smooth sailing. But when Pencil makes a mistake, it sees how Eraser can fix it—and improve the art. Expressive illustrations, created with pencil, eraser, and Photoshop, accentuate this friendship built on teamwork.
Tales from the Junk Drawer
These books offer more fun and wisdom with items commonly found in household junk drawers as characters.
The Adventures of Egg Box Dragon. By Richard Adams. Illus. by Alex T. Smith. 2019. Hodder & Stoughton, $16.99 (9781444938401). PreS–Gr. 2.
When Emma makes a little dragon from cut-up egg cartons, painted cardboard, and wire and leaves it under the moon overnight, the craft project comes to life with an unusual talent in this British import, illustrated with lively artwork. Egg Box Dragon can tell people where to find items they’ve lost. After helping neighbors, his adventures peak by helping the queen find her missing diamond.
Forky in Craft Buddy Day. By Drew Daywalt. Illus. by George McClements. 2019. Disney, $16.99 (9781484799581). PreS–Gr. 2.
Bonnie brings Forky, her favorite homemade toy, to kindergarten, where her classmates make their own buddies out of craft materials and recyclables. However, chaos ensues as Popsicle Stick Man freaks out without his ice topping. The spork psychologist reminds the buddies that they are toys, loved just as they are. The story’s naive illustrations are inspired by the characters from Toy Story 4.
The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors. By Drew Daywalt. Illus. by Adam Rex. 2017. HarperCollins/Balzer+Bray, $17.99 (9780062438898). K–Gr. 3.
In separate kingdoms, Rock, Paper, and Scissors, rendered with realistic depth, remain undefeated in battle. But these victories are too easy, and so the mighty warriors set out to find worthy opponents. They converge in a garage, where each warrior finally meets its match. Their hammy, expressive faces and grandiose declarations form an uproarious origin tale of the rock-paper-scissors game.
Angela Leeper is the Director of the Curriculum Materials Center at the University of Richmond, VA.
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