Sunday, November 14, 2010

If All Schools Felt Like This...

I was in one of local coffee shops in Dedham Square in my hometown of Dedham, Massachusetts during the middle of the week and I saw Ian, son of Cheryl (who has worked at our family-owned book & toy shop The Blue Bunny since the day we opened the doors seven years ago). It was a school day and THIS was his "school." So cool. S'cool.

Ian is home-schooled. He studies at home too, but he follows his mum into our charming downtown who works at the bookshop where he also studies. He also helps out at the cash register doing real-world math and refining his people skills while keeping up with all the latest book titles which he can then, in turn, recommend to other kids.

There are other spots in the Square that welcome Ian and his books and computer. He has become a fixture in our downtown, quietly working, drawing, animating - while the community cheers him on. We're all part of his "learning family."

As I stood waiting for my cappucino, I marveled at the cozy scene.

The fireplace.

The color.

No florescent lights - just beautiful, natural sunlight.

Music was playing.

Ian had his cranberry scone and his hot cocoa keeping him company.

What a wonderful - comfortable - inspiring way to learn.

Imagine if all schools were as cozy as this?

In my travels, I have found a few schools with some cozy touches. A rug, a sofa, holiday lights - mostly in the younger grades. I'd love to see more - across the age spectrum. Color. Music. Flowers. Gentler lighting. Pillows. Overstuffed armchairs. How about a cozy fireplace?

If you asked Ian - I am sure he'd agree.

All schools should feel this good.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Shape Goggles

My mentor, Doug Kornfeld (who I dedicated my book "Ish" to) challenged me to see more creatively. To see patterns and shapes. I realized by a very gentle nudging on his part - that I had been drinking in the detail and often was lost in it. I took a few courses with him in the late eighties/early nineties - and came to realize that he was really doing "therapy" with me by asking just the right question at just the right time.

He seemed quite happy to leave me pondering - not really waiting for the answer - and certainly not interested in the final product. Not in a mean way, he just wanted us to keep going, to keep exploring, to keep finding our personal breakthroughs.

Creating a drawing (noun) was not the point. Drawing (the verb) was the point.

And really great drawing is really engaged thinking.

I realized, at that moment, that seeing shapes and patterns was something I had always liked to do growing up, but now that I had become aware of it - with my "shape goggles" on - I started looking at things around me very differently. If you have seen the film, A Beautiful Mind, John Nash could "see" numbers glowing around him- and in the same way - I was seeing shapes emerge from trees, cars, buildings, faces.

Sifting through my many tin lunch boxes filled with scraps, sketches, doodles, I came across this drawing of St. Mary's Church in Dedham, MA I created awhile back, but its a good example of looking for the big shapes in an object. I then splashed colors to reflect the "spirit" of the church, rather than "getting it right" - or "accurate" as was so often taught to me in school.

So, I raise my "shape goggles" to salute Doug Kornfeld, and all those wonderful teachers and mentors around the world - who challenge us to go beyond the details and see essence - and to get our beautiful minds doing their wonderful magic.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Plate of String

My brother, Paul joined me for a meal at a local restaurant, Aquitaine. We sat outside - perfect weather - savoring a meal together. The food was superb and the service was great - no, actually it was stellar.

The waiter checked in and asked, "Gentlemen, how is everything?"

Paul answered, "We just need a piece of string. This meal is so perfect we're floating away."

The waiter made a compliant nod and disappeared.

He returned a few minutes later with what looked like a delicate pasta dish.

It was a plate of string.

He quietly placed it between us and asked, "Is there anything else I can do for you at this moment?"

No, there was nothing else he could do. He had used his creativity to "wow" us - but in an elegant and subtle way. Simply stellar.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

v. Flintstoning, to Flintstone

The Flintmobile was cartoon caveman Fred Flintstone's snazzy set of wheels.

In fact, that was ALL it was - a set of wheels. It had no engine.

The car was "Fred-powered."

Fred would have to put his feet to the earth and run like mad to pick up speed... and then he could lift his legs and zoom along!

In life, to get where we want to be going, we have to "Flintstone."

YOUR vehicle is "you-powered."

All projects, ideas, dreams - require effort to "get going." Even a retreat, adventure, and fun require an investment of planning, effort and energy.

Some goals require quite the running start - and others may require a quick push. A caring nudge from a friend or a serendipitous sign that says "GO!"

Wishing you green lights, encouraging signs, and the inspiration to "Flintstone" your way to where you really want to be - on the kind of "you-powered" journey you really want to be on.

And remember, in the inspiring words of Fred Flintsone: "Yabba-dabba DO!"

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Creativi-tea with Sir Ken Robinson

I had the rare and wonderful opportunity
to have "breakfast creativi-tea" with Sir Ken Robinson while in New York.
He was to keynote to educators at the NYSCATE conference that morning, but he had just enough time to have breakfast with other speakers and conference organizers.
People were getting their copy of Sir Ken's inspiring book,
"The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything," autographed.

His book is "my cup of tea."

It shines the light on those who have "followed their North Stars"
- many of those who had been given an early diagnosis of being "at-risk," "in trouble," or "lost."
Creative thinking helped each of these famous - and everyday
people - overcome obstacles to discover their Element.

I waited until the breakfast was almost over and asked Sir Ken to sign my own copy of his book.

I then sprung another request on him.

"Could you please draw me a teacup?"

I handed him a piece of my favorite Italian Fabriano paper and a pen. Much to my delight, he picked up the paper and dashed out a bold little cup of tea. I smiled.

Most adults freeze when I ask them to draw for me.

Sir Ken Robinson did not disappoint.
True to the spirit of his work, he was fearless and creative!

After he was finished, I added: "Please - sign it." And he did.

I shared with him that this was to be a collaboration.
I've been doing this for years with those I have met along the journey - especially those who say they CAN'T draw. With a gentle invitation to draw a teacup, (my "informal research" in the past 25 years has proven that EVERYONE can create a teacup - or something that is teacup-ish!)
everyone has been able to "make their mark."

I took the pen, opened my watercolors and set to work. I drew around Sir Ken's teacup creating a gallery - and a cast of admirers. A final splash of color and our collaboration was complete.


"The Element Gallery" By Sir Ken Robinson & Peter H. Reynolds, 2010

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sparks In the Universe

Have you ever had that brilliant idea - that connection - the idea - the spark that happens in the shower or while driving - or in any other circumstance without access to recording your idea? You rush to find a pen, a pencil, a way to jot it down... but the whole process occupies the very spot that your spark sat waiting to be preserved. And then... NOTHING. Without a trace. I imagine that these sparks float skyward... out of reach... and find a place in the heavens. Billions and billions of sparks. Glowing with energy and light. Out of reach. They sparkle there in the heavens to inspire... to inspire us to keep going - to give rise to new ideas. New sparks.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Power of One Word


I wrote this word in 4th grade while attending South Row School in Chelmsford, MA. We had been asked to write the classic "What Does Thanksgiving Mean to Me?"

I grabbed my Ticonderoga No. 2 pencil and began jotting my thoughts on my sheet of blue-lined yellow paper.

I handed in my essay - feeling pretty good about it.

The next day, Mr. Germann called me up to his desk. I was worried.

He pointed to one word which he had underlined twice in red. I was more worried.

It was not misspelled. So why did he underline it?

"Peter, this is a GREAT word!"

I smiled.

"You could have used a simple word -like "old," but you chose a more interesting word. How did you know the word "ancient""?

I searched my brain for an answer. I was not sure HOW that word had been picked up and lodged in my head. I just smiled awkwardly.

"I'm impressed! Keep searching for those cool words!" Mr. Germann smiled one of those proud-as-a-peacock smiles.

I floated back to my seat. Ancient. Cool word. There must be others.

My teacher had started a life-long quest to find cool words.

To my surprise, my teacher approached me at the end of the day and asked me:
"How would you like to read your essay tomorrow in Principal Henson's office over the loudspeaker?"

"To the whole school?"

"Sharing your story is great way to celebrate Thanksgiving."

That was the equivalent (to a 4th grader) to winning an Emmy Award.

All thanks to that cool word.


As I reflect on it now, it was more than the one word, but the context of that one word in an essay about giving thanks. A meaningful collection of words from the heart of a eight year old.

My teacher also planted a seed that day - the sharing seed.
If you have a idea - share it. Broadcast it. Tell a friend. Tell the world.

Flash forward to today. Besides being an author and illustrator of over 30 books - I own a trans-media company called FableVision - dedicated to helping organizations tell "stories that matter, stories that move" like the "ZebraFish" series we made for Boston Children's Hospital Foundation to help share the big idea of empathy. We also make creativity tools for schools and home to inspire thinking, writing, and sharing.

Mr. Germann would probably would have liked our online vocabulary program "Words & Their Stories" The tag-line for the program is "The more words you know - the farther you'll go."

Thanks to my fourth grade teacher (who showed me how exciting just one word could be), I set out on a life-long journey in search of very cool words to help me share my ideas - and hopefully make a difference. In the spirit of that Thanksgiving essay, I'd like end with this:

I am so very thankful for Mr. Germann,
and for all those teachers
who helped me find my spark,
make my mark
and encouraged me to dream big.