Allison's Book Bag

From A Box of Crayons

Posted on: February 10, 2015

I want to be Willy Wonka. He has a really fun spirited side but also a dark, justice-giver side.”

–Drew Daywalt, Good Night Doom

Ever since his childhood in one of Ohio’s most haunted houses, writer director Drew Daywalt has been writing escapist fantasy and building worlds of his own. With a degree in Creative Writing, and a concentration in Children’s Literature from Emerson College, Daywalt set off to Hollywood where he spent years writing for Disney and Universal on beloved animated shows. His first trip into live action landed him studio screenwriting and feature film directing work with Hollywood luminaries.

So, reads a standard of biography of Drew Daywalt, author of The Day the Crayons Quit. This picture book debuted on the New York Times Best Seller’s List in June 2013 and has since become a number one bestseller. I’ll review it on Wednesday. Save the date: February 11!

PERSONAL

Not everything is sunshine and rainbows in life, and kids want a place to explore their darker human natures. These guys really got that. They knew how to take subjects like abandonment, death, revenge, bullying, war, and broken & dysfunctional families, and put it into a form that was not only perfect for children to digest, but also insanely entertaining. In short, they didn’t bullshit kids. And we loved them for it.

–Drew Daywalt, Good Night Doom

Born in Ohio as the youngest of six, Daywalt’s childhood home was once a stagecoach stop during the Civil War, as well as a stop on the Underground Railroad. When the Daywalts moved in, Drew was often left in the care of his older brothers, who would stay up late watching horror shows and cult classics like Tarantula or Creature From the Black Lagoon.

As with many authors, Daywalt’s childhood was full of books. He considers himself a disciple of Dahl, Sendak, and Seuss. As the quote above illustrates, he loved the authors who explored the darker, deeper, and (in his mind) more interesting sides of childhood.

In grade school, Daywalt was the class clown. He confesses to KidLit411, however, that he wasn’t actually trying to make the kids laugh. Instead, he wanted to tickle the funny bone of his teachers. trying to make the teacher laugh.

At Emerson College, he studied Children’s Literature. His main instructor was author Jack Gantos. Not only did Gantos imbue Daywalk with a sense of not losing his childhood, he pushed him into the field of Kiddy Lit.

However, reports Daywalt to Nerdy Book Club, A fellow classmate was dead set on moving to Los Angeles and writing movies. For twenty years, Daywalt instead pursued a successful career as a writer and director in Hollywood.

WRITING BACKGROUND

I’ve always had this sort of duality of doing fun things over here that are really innocent, and then I’m writing a [Quentin] Tarantino heist comedy that’s Hard-R.”

–Drew Daywalt, Good Night Doom

As the years passed, Daywalt began to wonder what might have happened if had pursued his other childhood love of books? When Daywalt had kids of my own, his desire to use his creativity to give them something led Daywalt to take a crack at writing a manuscript for a children’s picture book. That was the birth of The Day the Crayons Quit.

Although as Daywalt informs California Mom, he found an agent pretty quickly, six years passed without a call. Daywalt went back to screenwriting, and at the moment, has a feature film in post-production that he wrote, directed, and produced. It’s called The Passengers, and is about a young couple, a trucker and his wife, who are hauling a bunch of antiques across country after the loss of their son and there’s a bunch of toys in the back from the ‘50s that are haunted. As for first picture book manuscript, Daywalt now has a phone-book sized hard copy of the zillions of rejections over the years. But obviously The Day the Crayons Quit finally did sell. ”It’s all about patience and believing in yourself and finding a champion who’s dumb enough to believe in you as well.”

When asked about the writing process, Daywalt shares with California Mom that he had a nice childhood, but found late 20th century suburban American life bland compared to these worlds he could visit on TV and in books. He grew up wanting to to be a world builder and an escapist. For him then, there were a couple of drafts for The Day the Crayons Quit but not many. What is in the book today is very close, Daywalt confesses, to what he originally banged out on his laptop.

As for how Daywalt came up with the idea for The Day the Crayons Quit, he was staring at a box of crayons on his desk at the studio. He couldn’t help but notice how unevenly they were used. “Blue and red were nubs, pink was untouched, peach had had it’s wrapper torn off… poor little thing. What if they could say anything they wanted to me? What if they could just let me have it? I bet I’d get an earful.” And that’s when it hit him.

His strength being dialogue writing, Daywalt told Nerdy Book Club that he set about writing a picture book that would be conversational. It was natural for him to write a series of monologues, giving voice to something that was near and dear to children. And that is how he came to anthropomorphize the crayons.

When evaluating picture books and looking for where his voice would fall into the pantheon of children’s writers, Daywalt explained to Nerdy Book Club that he couldn’t go for the soft, syrupy stuff. That wasn’t who he was as a writer. He prefers irony, satire, understatement, subtext, and commentary. His toolkit also includes darkness, distress, and conflict, all three of which he feels can be tempered for children with humor. When growing up, he had loved when adults showed him respect—and so he choose that in his own writing, he wouldn’t talk down to any children either. At the same time, he also had sympathy for parents who tell their kids to go grab a couple of books to read at bedtime, only to have kids grab “THAT BOOK” The book dreaded by the parent for either being too long, too cloying, too pablum, or too whatever”. Daywalt deliberately tried to write something that would make the child laugh, the parent laugh, wouldn’t offend Grandma, and would still get his point across.

To close my biographical notes on Daywalt, I’ll end with his answer to his favorite motivational phrase. His dad, who was a fireman in Tat the Chrysler car factory in Ohio had no idea what Daywalt was about to face when he went off to be a professional writer, but as he got into his fully packed car after college to move to Los Angeles, he gave him what Daywalt considers the the greatest motivational phrase of my life.

Son, I don’t know what you’re in for, but I know people. Work hard and be nice. You’ll do fine.”

–Drew Daywalt, Author Spotlight

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Summer Reviews

Books can take connect us with strangers, take us to unique places, and introduce us to new ideas. They can also offer hope in a chaotic world. And so I must share what I read!

Each week, I’ll introduce you to religious books, Advanced Reader Copies, animal books, or diversity books. Some I’ll review as singles and others as part of round-ups. Just ahead, there will be reviews of:

  • Joni: The unforgettable story of a young woman’s struggle against quadriplegia & depression by Joni Eareckson
  • The True Story of the World’s Most Beloved Animal Sanctuary by Samantha Glen
  • Brothers in hope : the story of the Lost Boys of Sudan–refugees by Mary Williams
  • The Inner Life of Cats by Thomas McNamee

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