Natascha Biebow: Acceptance Speech Text
It means a great deal to know that so many of children around the world loved The Crayon Man, because the book means a lot to me—and not just because I was lucky enough to tell Edwin Binney’s story. Each time I read it, I’m reminded of two important things:
- nature is a colorful inspiration – we need to remember to go outside and really LOOK!
- if we persevere, we can imagine and create anything
The Crayon Man is a story about an entrepreneur. It resonated with me because my dad too had a knack for listening and making what people needed. He showed me that you should never take no for an answer and go out into the world and be the best you can be. He gave me courage to keep being creative, to be a leader and to take a punt.
I came to write this story by chance – I was looking for a topic for a book I would write as part of an online writing course. My son and I were watching Sesame Street and we saw a video of the crayons in a myriad of bright colors spewing into the sorting machine. I suddenly remembered the joy of drawing with Crayola crayons, scribbling pictures alongside my many stories. As a child I’d been given a treasured box of 64, the one that had the sharpener in it. What was the story here? Who had created these crayons? I wondered.
Once there was a man who saw color EVERYWHERE.
He admired the yellow orange petals
- of the black-eyed Susans in his garden.
He noticed the deep
- blue greens
- of the waves in the sea.
He marveled at the rich
- scarlet red tones of the cardinal’s feathers.
Color made him really,
But ALL DAY LONG at work, all he saw was black.
- Black dust,
- black tar,
- black smoke,
- black ink,
- black dye,
- black shoe polish.
His name was Edwin Binney and he was an inventor.
He lived in a beautiful house in New Greenwich, CT, near the sea. He was known for bringing in bouquets of vibrant, colorful flowers to inspire his team.
In the early 1900s, children drew mainly with slate and chalk. It seems almost unimaginable today . . . What must that have been like?!
Alice, Edwin’s schoolteacher wife, told him that what people needed were bright, durable and non-toxic crayons to use in schools. So Edwin listened and Edwin invented, until finally in 1904 he created the first 8 Crayola crayons in a small green box, sold for only a nickel.
As a picture book editor and Montessori teacher, I feel like I have an affinity with Irma Black and her appreciation for innovative early childhood education and the art of the picture book. I love that so many teachers and librarians took the time to encourage the children who voted for this award to look closely and think critically about all the wonderful books on the shortlist and to discover how, together, the words and the pictures can make a whole larger than the sum of their parts.
It is also so special that this award gives children a voice in the discussion of what makes a standout picture book. I know they will tell it like it is. As an author with an international background, it is doubly wonderful that children in so many different countries voted for The Crayon Man. Thank you!
I think Edwin Binney would have been happy to know that children everywhere do indeed love draw in color.
When I first wrote the book, I had a vision for the pictures – I could see the shift from black and white at the beginning of the story to more and more colors by the end of the book. Edwin Binney starts out working with black all day long in his carbon black factory and, as the book progresses, he succeeds in inventing the first colorful 8 Crayola crayons. I spent a lot of time poring over historical photographs of Binney’s house, his family and the time period – the 1904 World’s Fair and Crayola workers and the factory. Since The Crayon Man is a true story, I felt we had a responsibility to accurately depict Binney’s story. But, when Steven Salerno added his pictures to my words, something magical started to happen. The story’s world was no longer 2D words on the page, but now 3D.
But more than this, to my vision of the pages changing as readers thumbed through the book, cumulatively accruing increasingly vibrant colors, Steven added a sense of time, place and wonder. He managed to capture the spirit of Edwin Binney the man and his personal journey as an inventor.
When you pick up a printed picture book, it looks so polished and seamless. It’s difficult to imagine the numerous stages that have happened prior to this one, the decisions about every little detail: what word to use here? What perspective and imagery will best convey this moment in the story? Should the page turn go here for maximum drama? What should the design of the fact boxes look like so they don’t interrupt the narrative? What tone of blue pigment did they have in the 1900s? The making of a picture book is truly a team effort.
I’m so grateful to Steven Salerno for his fabulous, evocative illustrations, and to the team at HMH, my editor Ann Rider and my agent Victoria Wells Arms for helping to make the book a success. Binney was a visionary inventor and generous philanthropist and it’s been an honor to tell his story and to connect with his family through the book. And of course a big thank you to family and friends near and far for the part you’ve played in the colorful reel of my life to this moment.
The Crayon Man is a story about looking to nature for inspiration. My mum always encouraged me to go spend time adventuring outside. In these times where many children are disconnected from the outdoors, I hope my book will inspire them to go outside and rediscover nature. Children have a natural sense of wonder, creativity and curiosity, just like Binney. They are, after all, the ones who will be the inventors and artists and who knows what professions of the future. We need them!
Let us have the courage to allow children to have the freedom to just be, to go outside and to reconnect.
I’m so thrilled to win this award! Let us all pick up a crayon, doodle and INVENT!