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PNB Harold purple crayon

Pacific Northwest Ballet School Professional Division students in Terence Marling and Robyn Mineko Williams’ Harold and the Purple Crayon. Photo © Lindsay Thomas.

PNB School’s ‘Harold and the Purple Crayon’ delights

Family-oriented matinees invite the audience into the adventure

I always get a little nervous when a theater, movie, or dance company takes a crack at a favorite children’s storybook. 

Especially my favorite storybook, which was and will always be Crockett Johnson’s 1955 classic “Harold and the Purple Crayon.” 

That’s because footie pajama-clad Harold drew his wonderful, whimsical, adventurous purple world across the otherwise crisp white pages of my dogged-eared copy and into my artsy heart. To me, Harold was the creative call—something I could hardly articulate as a young reader and which my mother did not appreciate as I moved my crayon across our living room sheetrock. 

A beloved character

I know I’m not alone in this. Several years ago, I interviewed Washington illustrator and author Nina Laden about her beloved childhood reads. Harold was front and center, not surprising.

“I still have some of my childhood books here. The one I most loved when I was really little was “Harold and the Purple Crayon” because I loved going into my imagination,” Laden told me. “That’s what Harold did, went into his imagination.” 

So when Pacific Northwest Ballet School announced it was staging an adaptation of Johnson’s simple masterpiece, I was a little worried. Would the show expand the magical, mystical purple line dancing across my memory or ruin it? 

The school will offer two more performances of the hour-long production on Saturday, March 30, at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., with a special sensory-friendly performance at 4:30 p.m. Performances, which feature music by Andrew Bird and choreographed by Robyn Mineko Williams and Terence Marling, take place at Seattle’s Center’s McCall Hall. 

PNB Harold purple crayon

Photo © Lindsay Thomas.

In a nutshell

In the ballet, as in the storybook, little Harold decides to go for a walk in the moonlight. But where was the moonlight? When he doesn’t see it, Harold takes his purple crayon and draws a moon to walk by. Of course, to walk, one needs a path, so Harold draws that too. And he keeps on drawing, through a one-apple-tree forest, past a dragon, into a city, and eventually back to his own purple-lined bedroom. Rather than being afraid and timid, Harold is resourceful and brave as he creates the world he wants to explore. 

False alarm

I’m not sure why I worried. I’ve never been disappointed in the school’s family matinee performances. And I certainly wasn’t by this one. Neither were the Harold book-loving children at the show I attended on March 23—they were clearly delighted.

No surprise, since every element of this production is considered with the point of view of a child in mind, from the music that drives the movement forward to the animated illustrations projected behind the dancers and pulling viewers into the story to invitations from the deep-voiced narrator for those in the audience to stomp, clap and draw themselves into Harold’s imagination. All around me purple-clad kids and parents joined with relish. One little girl in front of me even climbed onto her chair like Harold was doing onstage (her adult quickly coaxed her down). Kids held their free purple crayons as the narrator invited them to draw in the air. It was an audience of little Harold’s.

For me, the only question about this book adaptation was, “Where’s the dragon?” In the storybook, Harold draws a dragon to protect the apple tree he purple-crayoned.  Then again, the story goes, it was a “terribly frightening dragon, so perhaps the choreographers thought it best to leave him in the book.

Why go and what to take away

I asked my friend and former ballet dancer David Turner—a dad and a longtime art docent who really knows his art—what he saw in Harold.

“First, it’s a great chance for kids to see two forms of the same story,” he said. That is, to understand that there are many ways to understand and adapt and create from one story. As Harold and his crayon demonstrate, it’s all about imagination.

Second, Harold is an opportunity for kids to experience “fugue and arioso” in art, Turner pointed out. Multiple dancers of different play Harold, often at the same time. Although fugue is generally used to describe music, when one part of music is taken up by others and developed by interweaving the parts, kids experience it in the many Harolds as well. With music composed by Andrew Bird and choreography by Robyn Mineko Williams and Terence Marling, “the dance and the music in Harold match perfectly,” Turner says.

Although I don’t recall understanding them as a child, both Turner and I were aware while watching the PNB School production that the story introduces several developmental threads and themes. Imagination is magic. Fears can be overcome. What does it feel like to be lost? Who can be trusted. Both of us had interesting gut reactions to the police officer—drawn big and funny on the screen— that Harold asks for help. So much has happened since Johnson wrote this story.

Finally, ballet has some age-old traditions that are different from other art forms and that invite kids to both react to and respect the art. It’s one of the only forms where spontaneous applause is a welcome form of audience expression. Young children start to learn the concept of reverence at the end of a show as the audience shows gratitude and thanks for their hard work on stage through their applause. In this production, kids are quietly cued when clapping is expected.

Pacific Northwest Ballet School Professional Division students in Terence Marling and Robyn Mineko Williams’ Harold and the Purple Crayon. Photo © Lindsay Thomas.

Photo © Lindsay Thomas.

The upshot

The PNB School’s production does not feature PNB Company dancers. And there’s no loss in that. The young dancers in this production bring this simple, even elegant depiction of a child’s world to life. Playful, gentle, funny, and skilled, it made complete sense to have dancers still close to young childhood tell this story. Still, it would be fun to see this production kicked upstairs. I, for one, would be the first in line to see the “big kid” company dancers create an extended version of the show. 

For more than six decades, Crockett’s book has continued to open the world of reading to children. It has never gone out of print.

In the same way, the PNB School’s production of “Harold and the Purple Crayon” opens up the world of ballet to young viewers. Its simple, flawless storytelling brings young audience members to the edge of their seats with wonder and recognition. In my imagination, I saw thought bubbles rising above the young heads seated in the audience. “That’s the way I think,” said one. “I want to draw my world into being,” said another. 

And, as one grandmother who attended with her grandson said, “He was very engaged the whole time. It’s just so great to for ballet not to be just ‘The Nutcracker’ for young children.”

Sensory-friendly performance

A sensory-friendly performance of Harold and the Purple Crayon will be held on Saturday, March 30, at 4:30 pm, for those affected by autism or with other sensory needs. The performance will feature modified lighting and sound levels, fidgets, entry/exit privileges, trained staff, and device allowance. A sensory room will also be offered at this matinee.  

Harold and the Purple Crayon PNB School

Photo by Todd Rosenberg

Wear purple, take a boost, and other details

The ballet is a reason to dress up. Invite your kids to pull out their purple clothes; the fancier, the better. Join them. If you loved the book as a child, how it through your attire.

Booster seats are free of charge for small children or those who need a lift to see the stage—subject to availability. Just go to the coat check station and pull one from the bin. But get there early, boosters tend to run out for family performances. Opera glasses/binoculars are also available for a nominal fee. 

This is an all-age show. Expect to hear some chattering around you. Before you go, read a pdf of book with kids. It will enhance their enjoyment and understanding.


Tickets start at $30 (with discounts available for children under 14) and are available through the PNB Box Office in person at 301 Mercer Street at Seattle Center, by phone (206.441.2424), or online at

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About the Author

Cheryl Murfin

Cheryl Murfin is managing editor at Seattle's Child. She is also a certified doula, lactation educator for and a certified AWA writing workshop facilitator at