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Monday, April 20, 2015

Wonder Spaces, Wonder People

I painted this at a peaceful sunny breakfast sitting outside on a terrace in Carmel-by-the-Sea while partaking in the Wonderspace event created by Richard Tavener. A dreamy place to paint. I was having breakfast with my brother, Paul and our amazingly brilliant friend, Amy Robinson. Hanging out with inspirational people--in inspirational places helps get the creativity flowing!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Show Them What You're Made Of

I made that sketch a few years ago to capture a thought.  The initial spark happened just before I was to speak to a few thousand teachers in Nebraska. I looked out at the sea of faces before me. I wondered who they were.

A classic piece of sage advice when public speaking: Know Your Audience. I can usually cobble together a general profile, but I suddenly thought: "I wish had an hour or two to speak to each one individually to find out a few things about them." 

Here's what we'd talk about:

What grades do you work with? 

What subjects do you teach? 

If you could add something that you'd like to teach (not necessarily part of the official curriculum) what would that be? 

What inspired you to become a teacher? 

Who were your favorite teachers growing up? 

What interesting fact about you do few people know? 

What would you still like to learn? 

What is the most challenging part of teaching? 

What has been the best part of teaching?

And so on.

My quick estimate of how long those conversations would take was about 167 days (building in some downtime to sleep and eat - although I do love dinner table conversation too!) 

Well, I only had two minutes of extra time before my talk began, so I'd have to ask my audience a few questions as I went--and hopefully find connections with my audience about  learning, creativity and personal navigation. 

Without having had my "one-on-one's" I was confident that the room was filled with very interesting human beings. While I didn't have the luxury of getting to know each of them, it occurred to me that their students had about 180 days to get to know them. It also occurred to me that--at least in public schools in the United States--we don't build in much--or any --time for teachers to share with students who they are. 

Imagine if students knew the answers to the questions above? (They could skip the first two questions--hopefully--if they are paying attention.)

I have forgotten the names of quite a few teachers my own educational journey. (The ones that took us chapter by chapter through the issued text book.) The educators I DO remember shared who they were. Their own stories. Their own adventures. Their questions. Their frustrations. Their passions. Their service to others. Their lives beyond the walls of the school. 

One of those funny "aha!" moments when I met my third grade teacher, Mrs. Smith in the local supermarket buying pineapples.

"What is she doing out of school??"

"She eats pineapples?"

It began to dawn on me that teachers were allowed out of school and that they actually had a life beyond those walls.

I feel strongly that students benefit from knowing more about the amazing teacher there to inspire them. Discovering that your teacher is an interesting person, is curious, isn't perfect, has talents, has hobbies, has dreams, and is still learning. That is a powerful lesson.

So, go ahead and show them what you're made of. 

(By the way, this goes for parents too!)

Friday, March 13, 2015

Flying by the Seat of Your Pants

I found this little looped animation in my archives. 

I had forgotten all about it, but I was delighted by this image of a young person hovering--looking slightly perplexed--and possibly delighted at the position they're in. 

I looked up a definition of the idiom 
"flying by the seat of one's pants." 

To use one's judgement, initiative, and perceptions as events unfold in order to improvise a course of action without a predetermined plan.

In other words, to "wing it."

It's a great skill to have. Creative people are very good at it. They welcome the blank page, the surprise, and the sudden stage. 

If classrooms were allowed to go "off-script" more often, students would get practice thinking for themselves--and rather than be perplexed by being thrown into unfamiliar situations--they would be:

Friday, March 6, 2015

Personal Quest

I'm not sure when exactly this "personal quest" emerged, but it was probably about 30 years ago.  I was in a boat and I looked at the water and saw the dancing and flowing patterns and wondered how I would ever be able to capture that undulating wonder on paper.  

It haunted me-- for decades. Still does.

Almost every time I would see water, whether the ocean, a lake or a pool, in real life or in a photo, I would think:

"How can I capture this?" 

Strangely, I have made very few attempts to tackle drawing water.  Instead, I have put my energy into seeing water. I am comforted with the thought that it might be more important to actually SEE--and appreciate--than to "capture" it.  In my book, ISH--the last scene shows Ramon savoring a spring day and instead of "capturing it"--he instead "simply savors it." 

Having said that, I am still on a quest to make a painting of water.  Staring down the patterns that nature creates. Breaking it down. Translating the shapes. Mixing my paints to  approximate those shapes.   

There is something wonderful about having a challenge teasing me. Perhaps it is better not to tackle it and just have it coax me along... to keep my eyes open and really see this beautiful world we're blessed to be living in. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Our Haiku-llaboration

 I noticed a tweet from a classroom in Colorado. 

I'm incredibly busy these days with a pile of projects, but I enjoy little distractions to help my brain stay engaged and inspired.  Writing Haiku is fun, so I was eager to dive in and get started, but I noticed that the Sixth Avenue Elementary students had directed the request to Sharon Creech as well. 

The idea of a collaboration popped into my head.

A "haikullaboration!" 

I messaged Sharon Creech, who happens to be one of my favorite authors and, I am lucky to say, a friend.  I asked Sharon if she'd like to start a haiku for me and I would do the same for her. We'd take turns writing the next line--and I would illustrate the results.  

So... I sent the first line to Sharon.

"Please, dear, sit with me." 

She added the next line, sending it back to me to finish it up.

Here is our first haikullaboration:

Sharon then sent me a line: Glass bottle of ink." 

I closed my eyes and imagined a bottle of ink--a familiar item to me. I saw it in my studio--ready and able when the time was just right.  I added my line and sent back for Sharon to add that lovely last line to make our second haikullaboration.

On Monday March 2, 2015 at 11am EST, we tweeted our illustrated poems out to our friends at Sixth Avenue Elementary School. 

On another haiku note, I illustrated a book with Bob Raczka called "GuyKu" (Haiku for Guys) and we developed a fun site to explore this whimsical form of poetry. 

I hope this post inspires your own creative collaborations!

Sunday, February 22, 2015


"What do you want to be when you grow up?"

Do you remember that question from when you were a student? 

Imagine if we help kids broaden their choices and think bigger? I created this "classified ad" page to get kids (and grown up kids) pondering their futures in more creative ways. 

Often kids will name a role: Firefighter, police officer, soccer player, teacher, author. Why not get them to dig a little bit deeper?

How about a firefighter whose mission was to fight as few fires as possible because their mission is to promote safety in their communities? 

How about an author whose mission is to get kids interested in the environment? 

The North Star (or Polaris) is part of the constellation Ursa Minor. You can think of your future in the same way. Your North Star might be your guiding role--but you have other "stars" in your constellation that--if you see the connections and weave them in--which will guide you on a much more meaningful journey.  

In 1997, I wrote a book called The North Star to inspire creative thinking about crafting a meaningful future. It grew out of my own personal experience and working with educators who wondered out loud with me about what they wanted their students to leave their classrooms with after 180 spent with them. It sparked an array of answers which--when I looked at my notes--appeared to be a constellation. It also sparked a lot of questions and creative ways to inspire mindful thinking. 

I created The North Star as a picture book for all ages. 

Here's are two "North Star" ways of asking "What do you want to be when you grow up?":

"What will your mission be when you grown up?" 

"What kind of person would you like to be when you grow up?" 

"WANTED: WONDERFUL NEIGHBOR. Should be generous, kind, and respectful. Willing to lend a hand, a ladder or supply a cup of sugar.  Being active in the community is a plus."

If you or the young people in your life have ideas for additional "job listings" - send them my way and I will add to this "constellation" of career possibilities! 

Saturday, September 7, 2013


As I sit here in my studio watching the number of participants of International Dot Day 2013 soar, (984,000 at the moment) it seemed appropriate to share this image of  my book "The Dot" which soared up into space aboard the Soyuz rocket last December tucked into the kit of Commander Chris Hadfield

In November of 2012, I noticed that a Canadian astronaut had begun following me on Twitter! I was curious why.  How were our "dots" connected?  Well, we are both Canadians. And we have incredibly fun jobs and missions. And... well, I was about to discover that we had only just begun to connect our dots. 

I was in my bookshop The Blue Bunny in Dedham, MA, when the phone rang. Our staffer, Cheryl picked up the phone and handed it to me with wide eyes. 

"There's an astronaut on the phone for you." 

There was indeed.  Chris explained that he was working on a children's book and had hoped I would want to collaborate. I was very curious and excited to sit down to explore the idea with him, but he said that he would be busy for the next six months as he was flying into space to command the International Space Station. 

"I'd love to go with you! Someday, I'd love to fly into space," I shared.

"Well, I might be able to get you one step closer."

Chris said that if I sent a book to Houston overnight, his wife, Helene might--just might--be able to pack it in into his personal kit being sent in the Soyuz rocket in only a few weeks time. It would need to be scanned by NASA and approved. 

I rushed a copy of The Dot to Texas. 

Months went by and I watched with the rest of the world as Chris shot into space and began his five month command, regaling us all with beautiful photos, an amazing Twitter account of his adventures, and of course, his now famous Space Oddity video

The phone rang in January and I did not recognize the number on my cell phone. It was Commander Hadfield! He wanted to just check in to say hi and see if I was still noodling that book idea. He spoke quickly--noting that the ship would soon be out of range of the satellite he was using to call me. I forgot to ask if the book had made it aboard. I had to wait until he landed and came to Boston to visit me to find out. 

The Dot had, in fact, travelled into space. 

The book had floated in the cupola of the ISS where he snapped this photo. My book, written 10 years ago, about a girl on a journey to discover her bravery, creativity, and compassion, had orbited to Earth 2,500 times and had been flown back to the planet with the Commander. 

International Dot Day, celebrated on or about, Sept 15th each year has gone global - and now it has gone galactic! 
To follow Chris on Twitter: @Cmdr_Hadfield

You can see the book on display in our bookshop, but it will also be going on tour at some point.  

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


Children start out on a creative roll. 

Drawing, splashing, singing, dancing, building, exploring, playing. 

Many though, slow down as they get older and, by the age of ten-ish, leave the creating to others. Not just art, but creative thinking, original ideas, bravery, and sharing one's voice. 

I call it the "switching yard." 
Quite a few trains get rerouted. 
Decades of tracks laid out in a straight, safe, and predictable route.
For some, it can be boring and frustrating. 
For many others though, it can be quite productive and pleasant, 
although often there is a lingering sense 
that something was missing 
on that journey. 

A curious thing happens when people retire: 

They get brave again. 

It is interesting to note that one of the first things many folks 
do is to take an art course - or some other creative endeavor. 

That "gap" of five decades was valuable time not being used 
to practice thinking creatively, being brave, exploring original ideas, 
and sharing one's voice with the world. 

Anything we keep at -- gets easier over time. 

So... please. 


: )

For those not familiar with London Transport's  "MIND THE GAP" - here's a bit of background.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Lost "Me Book"

While at a church fair in Dedham during the winter of 2012, a children's book caught my eye: "MY BOOK ABOUT ME" by Dr. Seuss and Roy McKie.  My "radar" is always  looking for tools to help kids discover who they are and who they hope to become.  My book, The North Star (Candlewick Press) explores self-discovery using the metaphor of constellations as a guiding map.  After reading the book, I have kids (and grown up kids too) create their own maps with stars representing their talents, skills, interests and dreams. The map becomes an open-ended journey guidance system.  Great educators, parents and caregivers know that the better you know the learner, the better you'll be able to connect, encourage, inspire the learner. 

I flipped through the pages--delighted to see that the owner of the book--a young girl named Lauren--had filled in most of the pages with answers to the book's many question and drawings including a tracing of her foot! It was a wonderful glimpse of who she was at the time.  I wondered where Lauren might be now. How old was she?  What she was doing now? 

It seemed a bit sad that this treasure had been tossed in a box to be sold at on the "White Elephant" table on a cold winter morning.  I felt lucky to have come to the book's rescue. 

So I took the "MY BOOK ABOUT ME" home with me and eventually to my children's book studio--placing it on my "Wall of Inspiration." I took it down recently and flipped through its pages. 

I noticed a page with Lauren's address.  A bit of detective work and I discovered that her parents still live at that address. 

Would it be strange to return this orphaned book? 

Was it Lauren who tossed it in a donation box? A parent in frenzy of spring cleaning? 

I am just too curious not to "re-connect the dots." 

In that spirit, I will send Lauren's book back home to her. Perhaps I'll add a copy of The North Star with a hope that she has followed her constellation to a stellar place.  : )

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Make More Light - Inspiration from Boston Marathon Week

As the tragic news broke on that sunny day in Boston--the day of the Marathon, Diana and I sat glued to the television trying to make sense of what was unfolding. My twin brother, Paul was texting us a block away from the finish line. 


Then the texting stopped. 

The feelings I experienced during 9/11 came flooding back.  

It was not only the horror of what was happening, but even more so--the not knowing. 

What was next? 

Looking at our son, Henry, who was napping peacefully, I silently made a wish that he did not have to wake to a troubled world. 

I then realized that when this little boy DID wake up--the world would automatically be a brighter place with his energy and spirit added to it. That thought was very comforting to me. 

Grabbing some paper, I quickly jotted down a reminder to him. The message was for me and my family too. And friends. Why not share it with the world? And so I did. On Facebook and Twitter. It was immediately shared by tens of thousands--reaching over a million people in a week. 

It was clear to me that we all needed the reminder: There is more good than bad in this world, more light than darkness--and that WE can make more light. 

Proceeds from the 11" by 14" posters "Make More Light" are being donated to The One Fund Boston - and are available from

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Start small. Think big.

I'll keep this short in the spirit of the "start small." 

Getting overwhelmed by a project, a plan, 
a New Year's resolution, an idea can often short circuit ignition. 

Instead, just take a simple step forward. 

A quick dash in a notebook might be the start of an eventual novel. 

Sharing your brainstorm with a good friend might lead to the 
opening of your own not-for-profit group to help others. 

Cleaning up the cellar might help you rediscover 
a dream tucked away for far too long. 

These thoughts came to me last week, 
so I grabbed some paper and made this sketch. 
Today I had some time to share and 
add a bit of my thinking to it. 


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Our Mother, the Human VCR's, 
and the "Dark Shadows" Storytelling Academy

I am writing this on Mother's Day, remembering how our mother, Hazel Reynolds enrolled my brother, Paul and me into an unusual storytelling "academy." That daily dose of intensive, group-storytelling help set the foundation of what became a lifetime of story-crafting and story-sharing. Mum helped plant the seed 40+ years ago that lead to the creation of our trans-media company, FableVision and my career as a children's book author and filmmaker.

 In 1966, a new soap opera, Dark Shadows, debuted on US television. Looking back at what television was offering back in those days, it is hard to believe that Dan Curtis pitched this Gothic series packed with vampires, witches, and werewolves - all set in a New England town - and got funding and made it a hit show for five years. 

Our mother was one of those "bitten" by the addictive charms of this spooky, smart, and elegant show. Paul and I were five years old when the show began, and I imagine my mother thought she could watch the show without us paying much attention to her "soap." However, we did watch Dark Shadows -- daily. The Collins family became part of our extended family. Barnabas was like an uncle- a quirky uncle who happened to be a 175 year old vampire.

Our family of seven lived, at the time in Chelmsford, MA on Samuel Road. We were the ranch house with the elaborate TV antenna on the roof, often being adjusted by our father, Keith, in his suit and tie and a pipe tucked in corner of his mouth. Both Dad and Mum were accountants and being a big family, Mum would work part-time for various companies, sometimes in the mornings, but some jobs had her working as late as 4 in the afternoon. 

This caused a dilemma. 

By the time she would get home, "her show" was over. Remember, this was pre-VCR days with no way to record the show. (By the way, the first home VCR was introduced in 1965, but it wasn't until 1975 began its way into most American homes, four years after Dark Shadows went off the air.)

So, if you weren't in front of the telly - you missed it.

Mum, being a problem-solver and motivated by her crush on a vampire, employed her twin sons to "record" the daily episodes by watching the shows and "replaying" them when she came home from work. We became her human VCR's and watched the show with mission-driven intensity. 

We had a job to do. 

We had to get the latest happenings of Collinswood to Mum. When we saw her car roll up the driveway, we would quickly put the tea kettle on and prepare for her to sit down at the kitchen table which transformed into the "story roundtable." These storytelling sessions lasted at least as long as the episodes, and usually longer as Mum and her story crew began "connecting the dots" in the show, pondering motivations of  characters, and making predictions about what tomorrow's episode might bring.

It was not until very recently that it occurred to be how powerful our "Dark Shadows Storytelling Academy" had been in our lives. Not only did we learn a lot about how to tell a story, but we shared incredible bonding time with our mother. These tales became a "campfire" to gather around and share the most important gift: Time together.

Note: We are blessed that Hazel is still with us, and at 87, lives on the Cape -  is still an amazing storyteller and still is smitten by a vampire named Barnabas. Our father, Keith seemed not to mind her infatuation. After all, Barnabas was 130 years older, very pale, and with an odd set of teeth.

A few years ago, we bought Mum a paver on the Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston. Here she is with Paul proudly inspecting her tribute!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A 6th Grader's Journey to "Ish" -How a Book Planted a Seed

I visited a school in New Jersey a few months ago and had the pleasure of meeting a 6th grade student named Sydney who had written an essay called, "Nobody’s Perfect" inspired by my book, Ish. I share this not only for her inspiring words of her own "journey to ish" -but because the inspiration was delayed. I love that a book can plant a "seed" and sprout when it is most needed.

Nobody is perfect

by Sydney Abraham

Nobody is perfect. 

 That is a fact. 

Not a scientifically proven fact, but more like a fact that, quite frankly, most people refuse to believe. People want to be perfect. It is human nature to want to be 100,000,004% perfect. 

I used to be like that. I would cry and scream and shout if I did something incorrectly. Everything had to be exactly accurate and correct. I would not settle for anything below amazing.

All that changed one day in first grade.

My first grade teacher read us a story called “Ish” by Peter H. Reynolds. This book illustrates that being a little imperfect is okay. It also suggests that older brothers are pests, but who doesn’t know that already? 

In the story, a little boy draws a picture. His brother belittles his picture and says all sorts of mean things about it. The boy, Ramon, was very upset. Ramon’s sister comes and comforts him and tells him that his drawing is very good and that their brother was just trying to get on Ramon’s nerves. She said the drawing was fine- not perfect, but good enough. Ish.

When I first heard that story, it was just another story that my teacher read to us during story time. 

A couple weeks later, I was trying to perfect a picture that I was drawing.  It wasn’t turning out that way, and I was frustrated. I was not a happy camper. Then I remembered that book, “Ish”, that we had read in school. At that moment, and at many moments that would follow, I realized that was so important that it needed to be perfect. 
Settling for “Ish” was good enough for me.  

It was that day, not when we actually read the book, but when I discovered its true meaning, that really did change the way I look at life.  

To this day, whenever I try to do something perfect, I remember that one picture book that changed my outlook on pretty much everything that’s important in life.

I still try to do my very best every day, but I know nothing will ever be completely perfect. I now know that if you try to be perfect in everything you do, then you will never achieve anything. You will be too busy trying to perfect everything that you’ve ever done. Of course, everyone is a perfectionist in his or her own way. I will not settle for any grade below an A- or a B+. Some people will spend an hour trying to make the finishing touches on a picture they drew for fun. Others spend endless amounts of time trying to improve in a sport they love. 

For me, perfecting little things like these is okay, but I’d rather spend time improving, not perfecting, but improving, the bigger things in life. I believe that nothing in this universe is perfect, everything from the smallest molecule to the largest galaxy has its flaws. 

Nothing is perfect. 

It never has been, never will be. 

Everything is a little imperfect, “ish”, 
and that’s just fine by me."

Sydney reminds us of the true power of books -that the "aha" may not happen on that first read, or second or third. It may not happen for weeks or even years, but the seed is indeed planted -tucked deeply within - and may eventually take root, sprout and enlighten when it is most needed. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

More Time To Spend Together

It's never too late to evolve your life philosophy.

My twin brother, Paul and I were heading into FableVision, our trans-media studios in Boston. We zipped along the back roads of our hometown of Dedham and sailed onto the highway entrance ramp. Paul swiftly stepped on the brakes as he saw the bumper-to-bumper traffic on Route 95. He eased the car into the slow moving mass. We began crawling at a few miles per hour. 

"Well, looks like we're stuck," I groaned, calculating how much of our day would be spent on the road. 

Paul looked at me with a smile and simply said,  

"More time to spend together." 

I couldn't help but smile too. Five words had melted my frustration -- instantly! 

The truth of his words sunk in during our pleasant two hour trip into Boston and have stayed with me ever since. 

If I find myself waiting in long lines at the airport with colleagues, family or friends and hear anyone sigh or complain I reach for the five words.  

"More time to spend together." 

Works every time. Smiles. Blood pressure lowered.

This is a great example of creative thinking, or what I like to call STELLAR THINKING. It's the kind of thinking that allows us to see new possibilities and discover answers to challenges right under our noses. It allows us to see the world in a more generous way. 

For example, a noisy classroom might seem as problematic as a traffic jam. I've been in a few classrooms where exasperated teachers were using lots of their precious energy to control the room. 

What I could see and hear was what I call "BEAUTIFUL NOISE."  

A room full of kids engaged and excited. 

Lots of thinking and exchanging of ideas. 

Laughter and smiles too. 

Joyful noise is much more satisfying than the sound of a "controlled classroom" with the clock ticking away. 

Stellar Thinking thrives on the ability to see patterns among chaos, to keep your sense of humor near at all times, to be ready to try the absolute opposite strategy to a solve a dilemma, to embrace mistakes as opportunities for creative problem solving, and to see the 30,000 foot view on a situation. Some situations might require the 60,000 foot view, but it really helps. 

I'm pretty certain this kind of approach to life will allow me to live longer -which will allow me to say:

"More time to spend together." 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Now THAT'S a good book!

Early on in my children's book career, I was out in Greeley, Colorado attending the debut of a musical version of my book, The North Star. A local bookstore invited me to do a book-signing while I was visiting. I ventured to the shop which was located in a mall. I could tell it was a well-loved bookshop with narrow aisles packed to the gills with books. I ventured through the maze looking for someone in charge. I spotted an older woman who looked like she had been working -and perhaps living -in this shop for decades. Her eyebrow went up when she saw me. 

"I'm Peter Reynolds. I'm here for the book-signing."

Her eyebrow lowered and her furrowed brow told me that she had no idea of who I was or what book I might be signing.  I was fairly new at all this and quite ready to help bring her up to speed. I mentioned a new series I was illustrating called "Judy Moody." I told her about my book "The North Star" and how a local Greeley music teacher and an accomplished jazz musician, Tim Beckman, had transformed my story into a musical and how I had attended a performance of it at the Union Colony Civic Center.

I was telling her all this as she shuffled down the aisles in search of, I was guessing, copies of my books to sign. She stopped suddenly and picked up a small blue book and swung around. It was a copy of "Mr. Popper's Penguins" by Richard and Florence Atwater released in 1938.

She pushed it a few inches from my nose for me to get a real good look at it and said, "Now THAT is a good book."

After recovering from my bewildered state, I found the section with my books and signed.  

Before leaving, I did one last thing. 

I bought a copy of "Mr. Popper's Penguins."

On the plane ride home, I read it.  

She was right. It WAS a really good book.