An ode to the coloring book

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The McLoughlin Brothers created the first coloring book in 1880 (The Little Folks Painting Book), and it was an instant hit. Young children -- and older ones too -- loved the idea of being able to create artwork without the skill and focus required to draw or paint. Coloring books remained popular for another century or more, with the 1960s generally seen as the golden age. They were cheap, easy, required no adult supervision, and incredibly fun. Quick confession: the last time I went to Florida I brought one with me and had more fun than anyone over the age of 12 should ever be allowed to have on an airplane.

But since the 1960s, the coloring book has declined in popularity, and it's seen as passé in many circles. Giving a child coloring books as a gift might be seen as stingy and out of touch. You can get nice ones for $1 each at Wal-Mart. Now things are more complicated. To encourage your child's inner artist, the Madison Avenue geniuses want to sell you a Disney Princess Magic Pictures Magnetic Drawing Activity Set, for $14.99. And it isn't just art of course. Instead of giving a kid a recorder, he'll want Rock Band for Playstation 3 -- $169.99, not including the $300 Playstation. Barbies aren't even good enough either. Now young girls need a Bratz The Movie Party Bus for $48.98, but that's a small price to pay. You do want your daughter to grow up with the moral compass of Paris Hilton, don't you? Meanwhile our national savings rate is negative for the first time since the 1930s and kids are fatter than ever before, families rarely have dinner together, and television viewers are actually having to endure another season of The Mole. Something went wrong.

Of course none of these problems can be fixed quickly, if at all. But as a small sign of protest and a commitment to encouraging creativity and maintaining fiscal sanity, I'm asking you to make the next non-essential item you buy a child under the age of 8 a coloring book.
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