Author: Elizabeth Rusch
Illustrator: Chad Cameron
Publisher/Year: Rising Moon, 2007
Genre: Realistic Fiction
In A Day with No Crayons, a young Hispanic girl named Liza has her beloved crayons taken away for a day when she colors the walls of her room. Although sad at first, Liza quickly realizes that she does not need crayons to make art; art is all around her just waiting to be uncovered. Slowly, Liza’s world turns less and less gray as she colors her world using grass, flowers, mud, berries, leaves, and bricks.
On a very basic level, many young readers can relate to Liza’s challenge of having to find alternate means of fun after getting in trouble and having things taken away. A Day with No Crayons does not really provide a window to the lives of others but it does, however, provide a window to the unexplored world we live in. Liza is surprised to find all of the beautiful and exotic colors around her, just waiting to be discovered, named, and transformed. Liza even concludes that a day apart from her crayons was actually quite liberating. Liza also models good problem solving skills, such as how to create something out of seemingly nothing.
Although initially power rests with the mother and her ability to take away or give back Liza’s crayons, creative power ultimately rests with Liza, for she can choose to find and work with the color and art around her. The absence of crayons does not create a power struggle between Liza and her mother, nor does it represent an unconquerable obstacle for Liza. The mother is the only parent involved in the story and is rather stereotypically shown to be the rule-enforcing, punishment-giving parent. Although this instance of taking the crayons away helps Liza to grow (as an artist), it may still enforce in young readers’ minds the notion of a father as a buddy and only-around-for-the-fun sort of guy, rather than as an involved or active parent.
The beauty and uniqueness of the world is conveyed by the use of creative and descriptive color names, such as cornflower, laser lemon, meadow green, and wondermelon. These words help communicate Liza’s excitement about the rainbow of colors around her. To help Liza’s world come alive in color, actual photographs of nature are skillfully blended with painted illustrations. Cameron’s changing color scheme is symbolic. When first deprived of her crayons, Liza feels blue and everything around her is illustrated in grayscale. However, bright colored illustrations gradually consume more and more of the page as Liza realizes the freedom of not being tied to her crayons and coloring books. The illustrations are also diverse in style, ranging from a two page spreads, to multiple unframed images per page, and to paintings that seem to crawl up the edge of the page. Liza is similarly drawn at different perspectives and with changing expressions. These dynamic illustrations captivate the book’s creative energy and show Liza to be a lively individual with spunk. With Rusch’s decision to have a female main character, A Day with No Crayons advertises, to a degree, that art and coloring are feminine hobbies. However, Rusch’s book nonetheless embodies a positive sky-is-the-limit attitude, and makes an interesting claim about art: that nature is more inspiring than material objects, such as crayons and coloring books.