Crayons Add Color to Kids' Lives

I was reading a Time magazine article about healthy eating.  I learned that nature‘s best foods are often those with the most vibrant colors.  The article said that our diets should include dark green spinach, rich red tomatoes, and bright orange carrots.  Then came the clincher: “Your plate should look like a box of Crayolas.”

At that point my mind jumped the tracks.  No longer was it on nutrition.  It was pleasantly “waxing” nostalgic over Crayola crayons.  I have since discovered that Crayolas are a common bond for all of us, young and old.  Everyone has Crayola memories.  Their vivid colors and distinctive aroma drift down through the years to remind us of our earliest creative works of art.  

I remember my first day of school.  Chief among the tools of the first-grade trade was a crisp new box of 8 Crayola crayons.  It was a while afterwards that a classmate came to school with a box of 16.  Oh, how we envied him!  We thought he must have had every color in the universe in that little carton.  

Nearly everyone can recall the delight of opening a new box of Crayolas.  To flip open the top and survey a regiment of sharp-tipped colors and get a whiff of that sweet-scented wax...well, the creative juices just had to start flowing.  The imagination would kick into overdrive.  What little masterpiece was waiting to be formed from those multi-colored sticks?

I recently threw the topic out to my high school English class.  “Write about your Crayola memories,” I said.  The idea was an instant hit.  The words flowed.  One boy, evidently not the artistic type, said he mainly used them as missiles to launch at his brother.  But the others fondly remembered the leafy green trees, lush red tulips, and shiny silver locomotives that came alive on their grade-school papers.  One young lady mused over her pleasure in exercising a little imagination.  She delighted in painting blue cows, purple pigs, and lavender horses.  

By the time today’s students were born, Crayola was offering larger boxes and a wider variety of colors.  Many of my students boasted of their jumbo 64-size box with a built-in sharpener, a luxury not lost on those budding young artists.   They also voiced strong opinions as to their favorite colors.  Macaroni & cheese seems to be their favorite, but there were plenty of votes for robin’s egg blue, tickle-me pink, periwinkle, Granny apple, neon carrot, and razzmatazz.

The Binney & Smith Company introduced Crayolas in 1903.  The first box had 8 colors and sold for a nickel.  The name comes from “craie,” the French word for chalk, and “ola,” from “oleaginous” which means “oily.”   The product took off quickly and pretty soon kids across America were coloring away.  The box sizes grew over the years.  The 64-color assortment made its debut in1958.   There would later appear a 128-count box, an opulence that could not have been imagined by my first-grade friends.

Colors have come and gone.  Reflecting changing social conditions, the “flesh” color became “peach” in 1962 and “Indian red” became “chestnut” in 1995.  Several colors, considered too dull for modern kids, have been retired to the Crayola Hall of Fame in Easton, Pennsylvania.  They include maize, raw umber, lemon yellow, blue gray, and orange red.  Of course, new shades have been appearing all along.  Recently added were fuzzy wuzzy brown, pink flamingo, and outer space.   Some years back, the company conducted a poll to determine their customers’ favorite colors.   The final tally revealed that America’s favorite is blue.  As a matter of fact, 6 other shades of blue finished in the top ten.  They were cerulean, midnight blue, aquamarine, periwinkle, denim, and blizzard blue.  Rounding out the winners were purple heart, Caribbean green, and cerise.

 The crayon is one of the most enjoyable and educational products ever invented.  The company says they have made over 100 billion of them.  Their popularity has not waned.  Five million more are made each day.  As Crayolas round out their first one hundred years, we can be sure that they have cast a mighty,  multi-hued rainbow over the lives of virtually every American alive today.  As one of my students wrote when she described that special Christmas when she received a tin-box collection of Crayolas, “There were more colors than I could count!  That was a joyous time for me.”  

So, here’s my advice for a healthy and happy life.  Make sure your plate looks like a box of Crayolas, and occasionally pick up a Granny apple or neon carrot and color a picture or two.