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.