Do your kids like to read nonfiction books? My children are not (yet) the kind of children who will pore over books filled with facts, photography, maps, charts, or information, though I certainly love those children’s books! They will, however, listen to informational texts written in narrative form (such as a picture book biographies) on repeat, and fortunately, many children’s authors are starting to give us wonderful nonfiction narrative texts for younger audiences. In fact, just yesterday, while we were FaceTiming with my parents, my older daughter held up The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons by Natascha Biebow, illustrated by Steven Salerno, and announced that it is her favorite book. Read on to see why we love this one so much!
First and foremost, both of our daughters connect deeply to the subject. My girls, thus far in their young lives, are artists. They love to draw, create, dance, sing, build, perform… While they like animals, they don’t seem to be connected enough to want to look at page after page about animals (which, to be honest, surprised me, because some of the most popular books in my classrooms were always the nonfiction animal books!). But, give my children Crayola products and they’ll likely be happy for a good long time. While at first glance, I assumed based on the title The Crayon Man that this was a picture book biography about the man who invented crayons. However, this story is much less about the man and much more the subtitle, The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons. I tell you all of this not so that you can have extra insight into my children, but because this is true for many young children– Crayola products have touched their lives! Crayons, markers, paint have stood the test of time, but our children today are also blessed by newer concepts like Model Magic and Wonder Mess Free markers and paper.
Secondly, The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons is very well-written and easy for young audiences to either read or listen to. The text on each page is relatively short and moves along quickly, keeping children’s attention. Biebow has scattered 9 informational boxes throughout the narrative story, but even these informational texts are short and sweet, giving children the contextual background they may need to truly understand the creation but stopping short of overwhelming the narrative. Biebow also included a spread on “How Crayola Crayons Are Made Today,” as well as a page of biographical information about the inventor, Edwin Binney, and a full page of resources (including a video from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood!).
Lastly, Steven Salerno has illustrated this book with appropriate changing and often vivid color, accomplished through crayon pencil and even actual crayons! Through the vivid colors (or stark blacks and greys, in the world before crayons…), viewers gain a deeper understanding of how what may seem like such a simple invention truly changed children’s lives. In fact, when my older daughter was showing this book to my parents, one of the concepts she returned to over and over again was how the illustrations changed from black and grey to brightly colored! And, the hidden details in Salerno’s illustrations are fascinating. My daughters have actually picked up on more of these than I did, such as the steam “question mark” over Salerno’s head that becomes a lightbulb when he solves his problem!
Publishers target The Crayon Man at children ages 6-9, but my almost-4-year-old loves this one. I’d guess any young children who enjoy crayons would enjoy this one, too!
Do your children have any favorite narrative nonfiction books for young children? Some of our others include Brothers at Bat: The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team, Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade, and Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear. I’ve got my eye on The Boo-Boos that Changed the World: A True Story About an Accidental Invention (Really!) to read next!