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Putting Books to Work: Daywalt and Jeffers’ The Day the Crayons Quit

by Kathy Prater
 | Aug 20, 2013
The Day the Crayons Quit (Philomel Books, 2013)
Written by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
Pre-K through Grade 4

In The Day the Crayons Quit, Duncan is excited to open up his box of crayons and begin working. A problem exists though. The crayons have decided to go on strike. They leave independent notes with their complaints and issues. Red Crayon writes the first note, complaining that he has to work harder than the other crayons. He has to color too many things that are red and even has to work on holidays, coloring Santa and hearts. He demands a rest.

The next letter is from Purple Crayon, complaining about Duncan’s lack of neatness in coloring with him. He refuses to color unless Duncan is more careful with his placement of the hard-earned color purple. Beige, Grey, White, Black, Green, Yellow, Orange, Blue, Pink, and Peach also have complaints. The complaints range from having to color too large of an area to not being visible on white paper.

Poor Duncan wants to color but feels drawn to help the crayons feel better about their jobs as well. This book seems to be just about colors at first; however, the underlying feelings of the crayons parallel things students may feel every day. Duncan works hard to make all the crayons feel needed, wanted, and heard. He colors a picture using all the colors in the ways they chose to be used. The sky is yellow; the grass is blue; the ocean is green, etc.

Starting a new school can be traumatic and students can become stuck on their own needs. This book is a gentle reminder to look past your own needs and look to the needs of others. By placing these emotions on an inanimate object, students can discuss the feelings in a non-threatening manner.

Cross-curricular connections: Science, Art, Social Studies, English

Ideas for Classroom Use:


The purpose of this activity is to explore the feelings of others. After reading The Day the Crayons Quit to the class, have students talk with a partner about one of the letters in the book. Invite students to explore what feelings the crayon is having and brainstorm ways to counteract or help with these feelings. Encourage students to discuss whether or not the crayon needs to change anything, or if Duncan needs to change anything. Have students, as a small group or individually, write a letter from Duncan to the crayon.

Share the letters to the crayons in book form for the students to read or as author’s chair readings. Help students to engage in constructive criticism and support of all authors.

What Happened Next?

The purpose of this activity is to expand the imagination as well as strengthen prediction skills for reading. After reading the story and discussing the crayons’ feelings, ask students to write a new ending to the story. What did the crayons think and say to Duncan after he created the whimsical picture?

Then, have students write or dictate (according to their age range), the actions of the crayons. Ask them to illustrate their story to show what the crayons did after Duncan listened to them. Encourage students to include new feelings the crayons may be feeling. Help them relate this to their own experiences and lives as much as possible.

Color Changing

The purpose of this activity is to practice some of the beginning steps of the scientific process. Students will discover camouflage and color needs for animals and/or the environment around them.

Have each student choose an animal or object that is highlighted in the letters from the crayons. For example, the sun has two colors claiming that they are the right color for the sun to be. Have students research that item and determine the correct colors for each. Look for hidden colors in the item and hypothesize what would happen if the color was changed.

With younger students, the research can be done as a group, and with older students, independently or in small groups. Have students create a PowerPoint type slide about their question, research, and hypothesis for their item. Where possible, the hypothesis can be tested and evaluated to complete the steps of the scientific method.

Have students share their PowerPoint slides with their classmates and brainstorm on possible outcomes of color changes.

Additional Resources and Activities:

Using Personal Connections
This ReadWriteThink lesson plan gives teachers the tools needed to help guide young children through the difficult task of discovering and talking about emotions. The plan offers background information, a list of tools needed, and additional resources to help navigate through emotional well-being in a lower elementary classroom. These activities can be used in third and fourth grade classrooms as refreshers as well, as emotional growth can be quite challenging at any age.

Letter Generator
This website provides an easy to use letter template that can be completed to write Duncan’s letters or new letters from the crayons. The interactive program showcases the difference between friendly letters and business letters. Students are able to add their own words and produce a finished product.

Scientific Method Explanation
This video explains what the scientific method is and how it is used in a student’s world. The video explains the steps in the method and how to conduct and experiment. The site has detailed explanations for how to use this video in a classroom setting, as well as suggestions for classroom experiments and home experiments.

Kathy Prater is a Reading Specialist who works with students with dyslexia, an Adjunct Professor at Mississippi University for Women in Columbus, Mississippi, and a full time pre-kindergarten teacher at Starkville Academy in Starkville, Mississippi. Her passions include reading, writing, tending her flock of chickens, and helping students at all levels to find motivation for lifelong reading and learning. She believes that every child can become a successful reader if given the right tools and encouragement.
© 2013 Kathy Prater. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.

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