Author: William Steig
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Audience: Written for ages 4-8. This review suggests the book’s applicability to both young and mature audiences.
Summary: Two wooden figures, one pink and the other yellow, lying in the sun discover each other and begin a conversation to figure out just who they are and how they got there. Did someone make them? Or were they just an accident – did they just happen? They cant seem to agree. Yellow thinks it strange that someone would make them and just leave them there without an explanation. Pink thinks something so beautiful and perfect must have been made by someone, not by chance. Nonetheless, Yellow has a theory on how it all could have happened, starting with a tree branch that falls to the ground and the wind and rain and ice and lightning and woodpeckers whittled away at it to form the person he is today. Yellow has an answer for every question Pink come up with, some of them quite preposterous, until, when he’s finally stumped, he decides some things will just have to remain a mystery. Then a man comes along and picks them both up an carries them away. “Who is this guy?” asks Yellow. Pink didn’t know.
Literary Elements: This is a charming piece of fiction hovering somewhere between fantasy and allegory. The language is skillfully simple for some deep notions that at first I thought might be too complex for young minds. But children seem to like this book, perhaps because the conversation is so silly in places. “But how come we can see out of these holes the woodpeckers made?” asks Pink. “Because that’s what eyes are for, dummy.” How many times do we get answers to our questions that are about as meaningful as this one? The illustrations by the author are as whimsical as the conversation. Pink and yellow are hardly more than stick figures, which make even more absurd Pink’s fascination with himself “You mean these arms I can move this way and that, this head I can turn in any direction, this breathing nose, these walking feet, all of this just happened, bu some kind of fluke?” I especially like the Rube Goldberg style world that Yellow imagines can emerge by accident. Also remarkable is how Steig can give these stick figures so many human qualities: wonder, confusion, stubbornness, doubt, sarcasm, evasion, and imagination, characteristics that can be understood on a variety of levels at any age.
Theological Conversation Partners: Genesis 3:24-4:1a, John 20:28-29
Theology: A shallow interpretation of this book is the standing argument over evolution versus intelligent design with a vote for the latter. But the ending doesn’t make a firm statement one way or the other. There’s a lot more going on about how we come to know things through dialogue with others, about the assumptions we bring into our conversations and the limits to our own mental powers to figure some things out. Yellow’s opening question “Do I know you?” could have been Adam’s question after the fall. Yellow’s last question “Who is this guy?” could have been Thomas’ question to Jesus. Pink at first is not particularly interested in questions until Yellow, the one searching for answers, begins to at least try to make sense of it all. And so it goes, a sea saw of questions and explanations that become increasingly absurd until a mysterious stranger comes along and leaves us wondering what the next question should be.
1. Does yellow have faith? Why or why not?
2. Does Pink have faith? Why or why not?
3. Is the stranger at the end of the story God? Why or why not?
Review prepared by Union Presbyterian Seminary student Susan Wills.