This week the blogs Daddy Types and Stork Bites Man featured a couple of interesting coloring books, The Torture Device Coloring Book and The Lousy Animals and Friends Coloring Book . And it got me thinking about the coloring book conundrum. Are coloring books the nemesis of creativity that authors, like Susan Striker suggests? Many parents cringe at the images that perpetuate stereotypes. Coloring books play a vital part in an endless, daily stream of advertising that bombard children. So they are bad, right?
When I was teaching, coloring books and coloring sheets were just short of forbidden in my classroom. Sheets of blank paper for the young minds to explore in anyway they saw fit (occasionally with large quantities of white glue and nothing else) were piled high in corners of the room. Nevertheless, children would present me with a coloring sheet of some Disney character like they were offering me their soul. I would wince and graciously accept the work.
Free First Saturdays at the Walker have taught me that when you’re designing projects for 450 kids in a five-hour period, “ templates” are inevitable. And now I am beginning to wonder if coloring books could be seen as a form of appropriation. If Sherrie Levine can create a bronze cast of a urinal and have it considered appropriation, should kids be allowed to appropriate Cookie Monster? Perhaps I was wrong to underestimate the value of a meticulously traced and gently colored Cinderella. After all, Cinderella was wearing a neon-green dress not the classic blue, so she made an artistic decision to alter it. Coloring books might be a way to talk about contemporary art with kids.
As for the advertising and stereotypes issues, maybe the solution to those issues is just to offer kids cooler coloring books. What do think?