Mr. Pine’s Purple House, by Leonard Dessler
Do you find it funny that one of the single most important books I have ever read is a children’s picture book? Those of you who know me probably don’t doubt it one bit! Mr. Pine’s Purple House was out of print for many years, so when my dog chewed up my copy I was devastated. (Oh, that dog! Pete’s poop always had interesting things in it, like Goodnight Moon and Jolie’s baby socks…) But, thanks to the internet, I found a woman who began a publishing house called Purple House Press just so she could revive books like this one!
It was first published in 1965, the year before I was born, and what a subtly revolutionary little tale! Mr. Pine lives in a house that looks exactly like every other house on Vine Street. He tries several things to make his house stand out from all the rest, like plant a bush and a tree. But each time he tries something new, his neighbors copy him and all the houses once again look alike. Finally Mr. Pine decides to paint his house. And he decides to paint it– spoiler alert! —purple! Best. Color. Ever. Mr. Pine has to ignore the disapproval of the paint salesman. He has to persevere through many set-backs and hard work. When he is finally done, all of the neighbors come and admire his house and announce that they, too, are going to paint their houses! Mr. Pine is aghast, but all of the neighbors are going to choose different colors, so everything turns out fine.
My poor mom had to read this book to me over and over and over until I could read it myself. She hated it! She could not understand why I loved it so much- the illustrations aren’t great, the writing is repetitive and dull- but I could not get enough of it. To this day, any time I am in a neighborhood of houses that all look alike, Mr. Pine comes to mind.
I call it ‘the mall mentality’. Everything is the same, no matter where you go. There’s always a JC Penney’s, a Panda Express, a Mrs. Field’s or Cinnabon, whether the mall is in San Francisco or Denver or Tampa, despite the different cultures of the cities. When my son was about 10, his cousins, also about 10, came down to visit us from Denver. They were talking about the mall and they couldn’t believe it when Carson said, “What’s a mall?” Cousins’ minds… blown! I chuckle slightly sardonically every time I remember that conversation. Nailed it! I know the fact that the nearest mall is an hour away is one of the reasons I chose to move to this strange little place. That, and the fact that it really is a ‘strange little place’!
Mr. Pine taught me to be myself, be original, don’t listen to the nay-sayers. He taught me to persist in my vision. He taught me that being different is a great thing and that being the same as everyone else is just plain boring.