The Crayon Man: the True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons

I don’t know about you, but I sure could use a dose of something bright at the end of this dark week, and the story of Edwin Binney fits the bill. Binney invented that beloved staple of childhood: the Crayola crayon. He’d had success in making dustless chalk and a slate pencil that wrote smoothly, and after some trial and error, he found a way to vastly improve the quality of crayons, as well. At the time, crayons were a crumbly mix of oil and charcoal, but Binney thought to add wax to make them stronger. He and his team then worked with rocks and minerals, crushing, sifting, and heating them to generate a multitude of colors. At last, in June of 1903, Binney and his crew figured out just the right combination of wax, clay, and pigment for a new and improved crayon. His wife is credited with the famous name: she suggested combining craie, the French word for stick of chalk, and “ola” from oleaginous. Biebow’s narrative is light and airy, a perfect read-aloud. Salerno’s full-bleed illustrations are similarly cheerful, rendered appropriately in a lovely rainbow of hues. Kids will be fascinated by the back matter, a series of captioned photos that show today’s process for manufacturing crayons. There is also a page-length profile of Binney, and small factoids are scattered throughout the main text. This picture book biography is a happy look at a man who left his mark on history by improving a product that has brought decades of smiles to children’s faces, something we need now more than ever.

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