You've probably been inspired by the same character!
If you were a spirited kid filled with big ideas (or if you raised one), you’ll delight in Busy Betty (Oct. 4, Flamingo Books), written by Oscar-winning actress and favorite book club host Reese Witherspoon about a silly, bright and busy young girl who finds connection and creativity in chaos. “Instead of writing about the perfect little girl with the pink bows and tennis shoes, I wanted to write about that busybody who wears her brother's hand-me-downs and is really creative,” Witherspoon says.
“She's a whirling dervish of energy, but it takes teamwork to get constructive around her ideas. I hadn't read a character like that for a young girl, and I thought, What if we can talk about executive function and concepts of business at a very young age? Parade.com spoke with Witherspoon about her inspiration for Busy Betty.
What was a young Reese like?
I was a very outgoing and busy child who was sometimes overwhelming to my mom and my teachers. And I definitely had to be separated from other kids for talking too much. I was always very spirited—I was talking a lot and singing and dancing and making up games and stories and hopping around. First grade, I started making up businesses. My brother and I, we would do magic shows around the neighborhood and charge for tickets. One of my first businesses was building customized barrettes out of my desk in the second grade, and I got in a lot of trouble and had to stay after school for spilling the paint all over the desks. But it didn't stop my entrepreneurial spirit. I thought it'd be really fun to write about a little girl who has that busy energy and a lot of great ideas.
Hello Sunshine and Reese’s Book Club celebrate women's stories and diversity. How is your new children’s book an extension of that?
My mission to highlight female authorship started 10 or so years ago when I looked around the media landscape and saw a lack of female voices being amplified. And subsequently, their stories were very muted and not really reflective of the diversity of women and the complications women face. Women are very dynamic. And so it's been a passion of mine to read more books, highlight female authors and also hire more female filmmakers to turn these books into movies and television shows. I started thinking, How can I bring that mission to a younger audience and start reflecting a spectrum of little girls’ experiences?
Are there books or characters that have stayed with you over the years?
Ramona Quimby was a huge inspiration for me. I love [Ian Falconer’s character] Olivia the Pig. I also love the Elephant and Piggie series [by Mo Willems], which is something that I've read to my children. Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s books were really inspiring for all of my children. I love humor and great characters, and I find it's easier to relate to stories that have a great central character.
How do you view the importance of children's books in childhood development?
Well, my grandmother was a first-grade teacher and she was my caregiver after school because my mother worked. She taught me to read at a very, very young age, like 4 or 5, by doing all the different voices and making reading really engaging. I remember also she had these records that would play and read the stories while I read along. But I think it's just incredible how expansive kids’ vocabulary becomes, how they feel a sense of accomplishment, how their ideas about the world and culture and other people just expand. So it’s a real kind of empathy tool as well.
What excites you right now about the world of children's literature?
It's great to see the feedback that parents and caregivers are giving—they want more diverse stories, they want more complex stories, they want stories that help enhance and create constructive conversation with their children. It's really encouraging. I just read my son's summer reading book with him, and we talked about different themes inside the book and what it means to make the right decisions or be honorable, even if it's a complex situation. Talking to your kids about these books afterwards creates a great relationship tool, an opportunity to connect.
What are you currently reading?
Oh, gosh. I've been reading all of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s books. We just turned Daisy Jones & the Six into a television show for Amazon. It's just so wonderful and beautiful. And I read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo over the summer. But her work is just so character-driven and profound, and I think she just understands and creates these worlds that you want to walk into and exist inside of. So that's what I recently read.
Also, Wrong Place, Wrong Time by Gillian McAllister is one of my favorite book club books I've read in three years, and it just feels like a really uniquely told story from a mother's perspective, but with a very nonlinear structure to it. It's a crime and a mystery that it goes backwards in time, and it's really well-written.