Saturday, February 4, 2012


Harold and the Purple Crayon

I wish Ayn Van Dyk could see 'Harold and his Purple Crayon.'
Renée Allard is an advocate for Derek Hoare (Ayn's father) who put me on to this story of another young child for whom Harold and his purple crayon became a conversational release. This is a true story and it concerns a little autistic boy who does not speak, but in the subdued lighting of a theatrical treatment of this story, the boy was moved and enabled somehow to talk through the entire production. He was so stimulated and captivated by Harold and what he could do.

So here today there are a couple of stories in one.
Harold and the Purple Crayon’ is a 1955 children's book by Crockett Johnson. This most popular book, led to a series of books by Johnson. The book features a curious four-year old whose imagination - and ubiquitous purple crayon - lead him into a world of his own invention. In the story, the little boy takes a walk. Then using his purple crayon he creates everything he encounters along the way. He draws a forest with only one tree, a dragon who guards the apples on the tree. He creates an ocean and a sailboat to navigate it, land to land on. On the land a picnic with nothing but pies, a hill with only one side, a hot-air balloon to save him from a fall and a big city with lots of windows. But none of the windows are his, and it's time to go home. Finally, he draws his own window and his own bedroom and his own bed and goes to sleep.
Since then, HBO created a 13-part Family series that centred on Harold. Actress Sharon Stone narrates the series. Each episode revolves around a theme or issue that is pertinent to this four-year old and his preschool counterparts. It might by independence, exploration, curiosity, or fears. In order to grow, Harold needs to explore, and that involves taking some risks and overcoming obstacles. It is a matter of trial and error.  

It has also been adapted some time ago into a wonderful musical play by Adam W. Roberts who wrote the music and the lyrics. Roberts took the book about Harold and his purple crayon, added a few characters, peppered his play with lots of songs, and turned it over to Adventure Theatre for its world premiere.  The squeals of delight and hoots of laughter from tiny tot audiences is convincing evidence of its success

Latterly there has been news for a couple of years that a feature film of Harold and his crayon is now set up at Sony Animation, where Will Smith, James Lassiter and children's book author Maurice Sendak are producing an adaptation that will reportedly be all-computer-rendered.

Now back to the small boy mesmerized by the play that he watched. On a technical note sheet written by Michael B. Paul, stage manager of the Seattle Children’s Theatre, his performance notes include a reference to a five year old autistic boy about whom he learned following the show. The boy had never spoken before that night. When the lights went down, the child began to talk in full sentences. He called his teacher by name and she had no idea that he knew her name. He was engaged in the show and commented at one point that if there is a dragon, then there will be fire. An certainly, there was fire. He talked throughout the feature and when the lights came up, he stopped talking. He returned to his world. Then the manager wrote that he could cite all the things that went wrong with the production but that was not was this show was about but rather about a boy who could sit in the dark of a theatre and watch Harold and his purple crayon do magic.

Wouldn't it be marvelous to know that Ayn received such visual pleasure and stimulation?

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