At the end of the rainbow, Drew Daywalt found a box of mutinous crayons
Written by JULIE MONDIMORE WILKE | Photo by RICHARD GILLARD
A serendipitously placed box of crayons has taken Oak Park author Drew Daywalt on the ride of his life.
In 2002 Drew, a screenwriter and director, saw his first big feature film, “Stark Raving Mad,” fizzle at the box office. Crestfallen the author, who had majored in creative writing at Boston’s Emerson College, decided to return to his roots and write a children’s book.
He searched his office for ideas and noticed a box of crayons next to his computer.
“I was 33 and somehow I still had crayons. This was my light bulb moment—everyone loves crayons—but it was fleeting because now I had to figure out what to write,” he remembers.
Looking through the box, Drew noticed the black crayon was hardly used, the blue one was worn down and the peach crayon, missing its wrapper, was stripped naked. He began writing a series of letters from the point of view of the crayons.
It was in this moment “The Day the Crayons Quit,” a book about a box of disgruntled crayons, was born.
In 2003, Drew sent his manuscript to literary agent Jeff Dwyer who agreed to represent the material with one stipulation—no phone calls until he sold the book.
“My phone rings in 2009 and it’s Jeff,” Drew remembers. “Philomel (Books) had bought my book and Oliver Jeffers was going to illustrate it. It had been so long I asked if (Jeff) was still my agent.”
It took another four years before the book was in the hands of children and in the hearts of readers everywhere.
While Drew worked with editors at Philomel to hone the text, he had time to fine-tune the book’s message.
“Finding the comedy in the crayons’ complaints, bringing these things to life, allowed me to give a voice to the voiceless in a way I hoped everyone could relate to, especially kids,” he says. “So often kids are told to be quiet, to wait. I wanted them to know we all get a vote, we all get to be heard.”
Oliver, an award-winning illustrator, visually brought the crayons to life, even writing each of the crayon’s letters that appear in the book in his own quirky handwriting.
“The Day the Crayons Quit” debuted in June 2013 at number two on the New York Times Children’s Picture Books Bestseller List. Drew says he hit the literary lottery.
“I was utterly gobsmacked. This was my first book. I was hoping children would respond to it, but I was blown away by the reaction the book got from adults too.”
The champions of the book are educators, librarians, moms and dads. Drew says the book is being used to teach lessons about letter writing, colors and emotions. The author calls this a “beautiful unforeseen blessing.”
The book has alternated between the number one and two spots on the New York Times Bestseller List for the past 100 weeks and counting as of late May. And, in a classic Hollywood twist, last summer Universal Pictures bought the film rights to “The Day the Crayons Quit.”
Drew says that while he makes his living writing, his most important job is being a father.
“I would have never guessed it, but I was genetically designed to be a dad.”
The author has two children, daughter, Abigail, 11, and son, Reese, 6, with his wife, Marichelle. He was the dad at mommy and me classes and at park play dates when his children were younger.
“We moved out to the suburbs for our kids and being a writer let me be a stay-at-home dad. There’s less time to write, but being with my children brings me endless inspiration and silly, new ideas.”
Drew says a strong sense of community and residents’ dedication to education and their families make Oak Park an ideal place to raise his children.
These days, he is working on a long list of children’s books and projects with characters ranging from piñatas to boogers.
He also has the sequel to “The Day the Crayons Quit,” called “The Day the Crayons Came Home,” scheduled for release August 18.
This companion book was not planned, but when he found broken and maligned crayons forgotten around his house, he started wondering what they would say if given the chance.
“These broken, melted, fat and oddball crayons are misfits. They wouldn’t fit in a box if you tried to put them back,” Drew says. “This book is about acceptance and difference. It’s much closer to me.”
He’s also writing a comedy for middle-schoolers based on the point of view of his dog, a pug named Sam, who thinks Drew is “an idiot.” And he’s working on a reimagining of “Romeo and Juliet” called “Booger and Earwax: A Love Story.”
“I started out in Hollywood wanting to be George Lucas and I ended up somewhere between Erma Bombeck and Dr. Seuss.”
But Drew knows how lucky he is and says it all started with that box of crayons and rediscovering his own voice.
“Hollywood kicked my butt and I fell back. And in a moment of faith, the children caught me. It’s been nothing but joy ever since.”