Purple is the color of royalty, and there’s also something soothing about it. Something promising and fertile. For Kristen Bell, it is the seed color for a better future, and you and your kids will get all the purple feels when you read her new children’s book, “The World Needs More Purple People.”
Bell, an actress, producer and mom of two daughters, teamed up with her longtime friend, creative director Benjamin Hart, to write this book that packs in far more than its fun purple cover suggests. In fact, the book idea was planted during the 2016 election season, when the country seemed to split in two and people were arguing across dinner tables, countless friendships turned sour and a general sense of distrust and cynicism strained the seams of our national psyche.
Just what does purple have to do with all that? “Purple is, besides being one of my favorite colors, also what happens when red and blue are mixed together, and I’ll leave you to deduce what that means,” says Bell, who starred in the NBC series “The Good Place” and is the voice of the beloved Anna in Disney’s “Frozen” franchise.
“We often have conversations about the world, our kids…” says Bell, speaking of her friendship with Hart. “A few years ago, a lot of cultural conversations were highlighting all the differences, but everyone is way more similar than we are different, and we thought, What if we sort of reminded everybody what makes us so similar, and how we can work together? Create an identity of a purple person and what that means. A person that was not excluding anyone. All we were seeing was divisiveness.”
Bell admits that, even with the best intentions, our behaviors don’t always live up to our philosophies. If you’ve yelled or erected impenetrable walls because you just know your viewpoint (political or otherwise) is the right one, well, join the club. “Intellectually, I’ve never wanted to reach across the table,” Bell says, “but emotionally, I do. It’s hard.
“But I know that there are kind, intelligent people in the world, and I’m at my best when I acknowledge that they are kind, intelligent people. My husband is extremely helpful for this. He’s been a huge voice of thoughtfulness and reasonableness in my life,” she says, referring to her husband, Dax Shepard, with whom she co-founded the company Hello Bello, which sells affordable, planet-conscious baby products.
In “The World Needs More Purple People,” the narrator, a mercurial kid who flits from one scene and character to another, takes us on a journey, questioning parents, friends, teachers and grandparents about what it means to be a purple person. And, in learning what it means, readers gain a how-to manual in the process: how to “become a purple person.” Illustrator
Daniel Wiseman ties the lyrical field trip together with dialogue bubbles that pop from the pages in deep hues of purple – think eggplant and fuchsia mixed together. The illustrations echo the narrator’s curious quips, then travel beyond them with quirkiness, color and layered, look-again images. In one classroom scene, the Delphinus constellation lights up a blackboard, and, of course, purple showers everything: a rainbow, with purple as the lower band, holding up the rest of the bridge of color. There’s a purple lamp in Grandma’s living room, and a heap of purple leaves baptizes the narrator as the grandparents stand watch, rakes in hand. Kids climb a purple playground apparatus, and there’s even a purple llama.
While the book is full of joy and fun, there are themes of justice and rallying for group causes. A group of kids, who make up a kaleidoscope of ethnicity and abilities, organize in a march: “What do we want?” “More playgrounds!” “When do we want them?” “Now!”
“You want to bring [kids] up to use their voice – which means stand up for what you believe in and be strong – but you want to teach them that they have to listen and you also have to recognize different ideas,” Bell says. “Take a second to acknowledge the similarities before you talk about the differences. I think [the book] should be required reading for Congress.”
I spoke with Bell in April, just before the book’s “birthday,” and in the middle of our strictest stay-at-home orders. She was excited about promoting the book (particularly encouraging people to buy the book from smaller bookstores when possible), and was, like most of us, settling into a sort of new rhythm with her family. “Dax and I are both stir crazy, but now we’ve kind of settled into what feels like perhaps what retirement would look like,” she says. “Our children never balked at the idea of being at home for the foreseeable future; they love it. They love every single thing about it. It only worries me a tiny bit because I keep saying: ‘Do you want to call any of your friends?’ They’re like ‘No, I’m good.’ They’re just loving Mom and Dad.”
Their daughters were “test subjects” for “The World Needs More Purple People,” giving thumbs up and thumbs down, but in earlier drafts didn’t understand the story as deeply before the illustrations joined it. Bell wants parents to read the book with their kids, and her mission is two-fold. “Picture books are often read with the parents, and this came as a perfect way to hit two audiences with our message at once. Kids under 10 are like sponges, and when they read picture books, they’re listening to everything. We wanted to create a road map.”
A road map to creating a more purple world.
Cassandra Lane is Managing Editor of L.A. Parent.