With Her New Children's Book 'Busy Betty' Oscar-Winning Actress and Sunday Paper Reader Reese Witherspoon Shows Us that We Can Turn Our Dreams into a Reality No Matter What Our Age
Reese Witherspoon is a born multi-hyphenate. The Oscar-winning actress has built an empire of an entrepreneurial career that includes founder, producer, and media executive, amongst many other roles. Now Witherspoon has a new title to add to her mix: children’s book author. With her new book Busy Betty, she is giving the topics of friendship, curiosity, and entrepreneurship a fresh, fun, whimsical spin for young readers. The book is filled with life lessons to dream big and know that anything is possible—and it's all inspired by Witherspoon’s own innate desire to do many—many!—things in life.
The Sunday Paper spoke with Witherspoon, a mother of three, about the life lessons she hopes kids and caregivers take away from Busy Betty, and why this character is one of her most beloved to date. “I worked hard on Betty," she tells us, "and I feel really proud of who she’s become.”
A Conversation with Reese Witherspoon
Congrats on your new book, Reese. What fueled you to come out with this book now?
During the pandemic, I was going through a lot of my old photos and remembering my childhood. I also spent a lot of time in Nashville, Tennessee, where I'm from, and I was talking with my old teachers—whom I still love to have lunch with. I would ask them how they had so much patience with me. I was an endlessly creative, energetic, strong-willed child. Instead of seeing that as a detriment or something that they couldn't deal with, my teachers leaned in and encouraged my creativity. My teachers were truly, truly wonderful. I kept thinking that I wanted to write about a character like me as a little girl; a girl who sometimes talked too much in class or had many ideas or sometimes broke the rules because she was pushing boundaries. I wanted to give that character to little kids.
Busy Betty is a children's book, but there are also many messages for adults. What are some of those?
I hope it’s helpful for caregivers to see that if you put constructive ideas around kids who are super creative, it can help them focus. Building businesses was a good way for my parents to distract me and my brother. We both had busy brains and we were always starting little businesses in our backyard, from magic shows to lemonade stands to bake sales to garage sales. We were creative kids, and we learned some early business principles that I believe are great to encourage—especially in little girls. These skills include learning more about starting a business to what makes a business successful. I wanted to talk to young kids about the things that I've learned.
That touches on entrepreneurship, a big theme of the book. What do you want kids and parents to learn about entrepreneurship from Busy Betty?
For one, I didn't always succeed. I failed a lot. I made a big mess. It’s okay to encourage kids to dare to be creative. They can be messy and learn by making mistakes. I learned as much from my failures as I did from my successes in life. There’s a perfectionism myth, especially for young girls, that you must show up perfectly or not at all. I want to break that down with Betty. And there are going to be more books! I think of her [Busy Betty] as a character like Elle Woods or any movie character I've worked so hard on. She’s so meaningful to me.
I want caregivers who live with highly energetic spirited children to understand the importance of helping them focus. A big phrase in the book is focus to finish. I'm 46 and I still tell myself focus to finish. Let’s set timelines, let's set goals. It’s about building some real practical life skills around creativity to help kids harness it and turn it into something successful.
Betty is an innately curious character. Why was infusing curiosity into this story so important to you?
Curiosity is everything in my life. I have really curious kids who challenge me to be a better parent. There's just so much in life to learn. Also, we must know that we don't have to be one thing. We can be so many things. That’s important for kids to hear and learn. Encouraging their curiosity should be fun.
It's also important to show kids how to do the work. Do you want to have a lemonade stand? Here's the budget. You’re going to have to market it. You’re going to have to put up signs. And then, how will you split the money between you and your brother or you and your sister? It’s all these early principles that you must let them work out. And you must let them make mistakes. That is the hardest part as a parent: wanting to do it for them.
Your mother, who is also named Betty, has always been a big inspiration for you. How did she encourage you?
The story that comes to mind is one with my old teacher Patty Wright, who has been at my school for almost 40 years. When I was five years old, Patty saw me singing by myself in kindergarten. I always wanted to be Dolly Parton. Patty said to me, ‘Reese, you don't have to just be a country singer, you could be something else, too. You could be an actress.’ And then she told me what an actress was. I remember saying, ‘I want to be an actress!’ So Patty called my mom and my mom said, ‘Reese is an actress. You should put her in acting classes.’ Instead of my mom saying, ‘What are you talking about, that's impractical,’ my mom called all over town and got me into the only acting class for little kids in Nashville. Then I went to another class and then another class. My mother encouraged my magical thinking, my passion, and my dreams. And she never belittled me or she never said that my dream's not possible...
I’m going to cry. She’s a great mom. And Patty was a great kindergarten teacher who just saw me for how different I was. It was really amazing.
Reese Witherspoon is an Academy Award–winning actress, founder, and bestselling author. You can order your copy of Busy Betty here.