The Star Of Elizabeth Olsen & Robbie Arnett’s Children’s Book Is The Friend Every Kid Needs
Hattie Harmony: Worry Detective is here to help kids build their emotional vocabulary.
For actress Elizabeth Olsen and her husband, musician Robbie Arnett, writing a children’s book began as a creative exercise but soon became something loftier. They didn’t want to write something for the sake of writing it — they wanted to effect positive change by giving children a fun way to develop their emotional vocabulary. “Going to therapy for anxiety that we hold was really about finding identifying language,” Olsen tells Romper. “Even as an adult, I feel like sometimes we don't know the root of something overwhelming. And, I think, especially with developing brains, just introducing that kind of language young could be beneficial to kids to encourage them to work through it and not deny those feelings.”
Hattie Harmony: Worry Detective, the couple’s first children’s book, features an adorable assortment of alliterative animals (we’re partial to Pearl Peppercorn the Porcupine) and their various first-day jitters. “Who will be my friend?” “Which bus is mine?” “What am I going to do if the teacher calls on me?” Hattie, a grade school “worry detective” comes prepared to help her friends with a variety of tools and strategies to help them remember her motto, that punctuates the story like the chorus of a song: “Worry, worry, go away! There’s no time for you today!”
There’s a reason it might strike a reader as song-like: Arnett, who did most of the writing, says the process felt like an extension of songwriting with his band Milo Greene. He also drew inspiration from his own childhood of moving around a lot. “I was really an anxious kid,” he tells Romper. “A lot of the anecdotes in the book have come pretty much straight from my life. I think Hattie was kind of the friend that I wish I would have had when I was a young kid.”
Arnett described his and Olsen’s collaboration as “seamless,” and it’s something that became apparent in the way they spoke about it.
“We kind of have different brains that really work well together,” Arnett says. “I feel like I kind of go off on tangents and non sequiturs and Lizzie...”
“Well, you tell anecdotal stories,” Olsen picked up, “and I just try to put a reason to them or something, so that it can feel like there's a bit more maybe structure to how we deliver information. I'm a very analytical person and Robbie's incredibly, incredibly creative.”
“[Robbie and I] care a lot about and talk a lot about direction of culture and what can you do to positively affect culture, and that always will start with children.”
The seamlessness of being on the same wavelength also extended, it seemed, to illustrator Marissa Valdez, whose ebullient, detailed style (also seen in Meena Harris’ Ambitious Girl) “immediately spoke to us,” Arnett says. Even when they didn’t communicate their ideas, there were times when Valdez seemed to know what to do. “We didn't even talk to her about whether or not we wanted it to be an animal or a human!” Olsen marvels. “She had just created Hattie as this film noir worry detective cat.”
And yet as collaborative as co-writing and publishing at large is, Olsen says there was a level of control in writing she doesn’t necessarily feel with acting. “We were the drivers and the leaders of what we were creating. And there's some ownership there that you don't necessarily get to have that often,” Olsen explains. “It feels more like on the ground, trying to do as much as you can to have it be in front of people. And I do feel that way with film, but it's also not exactly my work. It feels like it's an editor's work, it's a director's work. But that's what's been different for me.”
The experience has been so positive that it’s one they plan to continue. Another book in the series will be coming out next year, and the pair hope to expand and develop the world of Hattie to help children through their emotional experiences.
“It's a really important medium,” Arnett says. “It's really the first thing creatively that I remember seeing, and so it's just really shaped my mind creatively. So it was really inspiring to just be a part of that and the integrity of picture books.”
“Also because [Robbie and I] care a lot about and talk a lot about direction of culture and what can you do to positively affect culture,” adds Olsen. “And that always will start with children.”