Somehow I’ve started the past few years reviewing a non-fiction science-y book; this year the one I started was denser than anticipated and I haven’t finished it yet. Instead, I have Crayola: a Visual Biography of the World’s Most Famous Crayon. This sounded really interesting, but I have to admit I was a disappointed that it was more corporate propaganda than history/biography. In retrospect, that shouldn’t be too surprising given that the company is actually listed as a co-author.
There is a little bit of company history, but it’s scattered and not in order. It’s also not much in depth. For example, there’s a bit about how the parent company that owns the Crayola brand won an award for its black coloring at the Paris Exhibition in 1900 and a medal at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis for dustless chalk. However, there is very little background about the history of creating color or writing utensils; there is also virtually no information about the people involved in any of this, just a few names. IT would have been so much more interesting if there had been some details about what school kids used in their classrooms in the early 20th century for example so that the books repeated emphasis on how much the main company founders/owners wanted to support education would really fit. As is, it just comes off as corporate propaganda with very little supporting evidence.
There are a lot of pictures, and some of them are works by professional artists who use crayons which would be so much more interesting if there had been some more emphasis on the technique with that medium as opposed to general artist statements about meaning and intent. One habit of the book that is a total waste of space is the frequent full page repetitions of particularly meaningful quotes from the previous page or two; no additional discussion, image, or anything else. Again, propaganda.
Really, the only parts that are even close to biography cover the discussions of the ranges of colors and names, and how that’s shifted over the past several decades. This takes up roughly the final third of the book, and it’s basically a set of color groups with the member colors, a color patch, name, and general descriptor to differentiate it from all the rest, as well as which box or collection it comes in. The title page for each section includes some info about the cultural and historical background of the color as well, like how purple is one of the rarest colors in nature or how reds are some of the oldest natural pigments known to humanity. The last bit of the book is a timeline, which is probably the most detailed historical section as it includes events and information not mentioned in the book; I did not know that Crayola and Hallmark had a company connection, and has since the 1980s. I also hadn’t realized that Crayola and Silly Putty were eventually owned by the same company.
This could have been so much more interesting than it was. Sigh.