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. 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Lost Children

We lose a lot of kids. 

And I mean A LOT of kids. Try well north of a half million kids a year in the USA. 

They simply drop out of public schools. (607,789 kids. (in 2008-9) according to the U.S. Dept. of Education)   That number boggles my mind. That is roughly the population of Vermont.

Let's imagine what the prospects of those "lost children" might be out there in the world 
with no degree, few skills, and the label of "a failure"? 

And let's venture a guess on who ends up helping shoulder their burden?

That's right: You and I.
Our communities have to dig deep to pay for the consequences of these "lost kids."

It's a shame that these kids, who leave school, do so without the skills to help us make things better.  If they could read, write, problem solve - and feel empowered -imagine tapping them on the shoulder to help architect schools that were boredom-proof? 

Ironic, no?

By the way, I'm a creative thinker, so I don't think all of these "lost kids" are doomed.
Many do actually fight their way through and make a future for themselves.
Some of these "left fielders" actually do some amazing things left to their own devices.

Speaking of devices, technology is a pretty nifty "game changer." Kids don't need to be reminded to use their mobile devices. Keyboards are irresistable to even infants. Kids expect all screens to be touch screens. Tell kids to build a robot and they light up. Ask them to make a movie or an animated film and they'll work through the night. We've just begun to see the tip of the iceberg on how these tools will revolutionize learning.

Pretty obvious to me that with new tools - cross-pollinated with new thinking about what school is, what it can be, what it should be... and then we've got a shot at plugging back in one third of our country's future.
Engaged, creative, productive, innovative. 

Hey, isn't that the spirit that a participatory democracy thrives on?

Thinking for ourselves. 

Making own choices. 

Yet remembering that we're all in this together -- that our neighbors matter.

That's why my brother, Paul and I want to help press fast forward by launching a not-for-profit center dedicated to teaching, learning and creativity. We're interested in "out of the box" ideas that improve things- not just by a few percentage points - but by leaps and bounds. Applying  slightly improved "same old same old" approaches won't move the meter for those hundreds of thousands of kids who are falling off the grid each year. 

Those kids are our neighbors and our neighbors matter to us. 
We can't stand by and watch them suffer and miss the dream.

We count our lucky stars that we can make a difference.
That is what drives us. We get energized when we see kids light up. 
Teachers get recharged. Families get plugged in. Communities get energized.
We can't do this alone though... we need you. It's a complex challenge, but we love a good challenge. Many of the solutions to these challenges are ones that we already know work- but need room to breathe -and need to be protected and championed: conversation, listening, freedom, human connections- especially from caring mentors. Nothing beats an inspired teacher whose enthusiasm and energy inspires the same from those around them.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Don't Miss the Clues

I was behind the counter of our book and toy store The Blue Bunny a few weeks ago on a Saturday, helping out Janet and Margie. A mother was paying for her items and her daughter ran up - very excited- and interrupted her. 

"Mom! Can I please get this?"

I noticed that it was one of my signed prints called "Dream Big" featuring a girl with a paintbrush admiring her creative affirmation. 

Her mom was determined to pay for her gathered items and get on with the day. With a quick glance at her daughter, she said firmly,

"No. Now put it back."

My heart lurched. This girl's wide eyes - imploring her mom for this print - were not noticed by her mother. 

"Pleeeeeease, Mom! PLEASE!" 

"No, put it back."

I thought how profound that moment was - this young girl, who resonated with the message: "DREAM BIG," was being told to "put the it back." This wasn't a can of soda or candy - this was a reminder to a young woman to make the most of her journey.  I hoped that, given the opportunity, her mother would applaud and encourage this vision for her child, but here on this busy day, the moment was going unnoticed. 

The clues - as to who her daughter was becoming-  were about to be missed. It wasn't that I wanted her to buy the print, rather just notice what sparked her daughter.

I took the plunge and spoke up.

"Keep it. That's a gift from me to you."

The girl's eyes grew wider. "REALLY?"

"Yes. That image spoke to you and I think it's very important for you to have it."


Her mom paused, trying to catch up with what was happening. She took a look at what her daughter was holding and smiled. "Thank you!"

It felt good to help get one of those clues noticed  I am hoping that this little print will hang on this girl's room, and then her college dorm wall, and in her office, and perhaps someday, in a little framed propped up on her desk in the Oval Office. 

Hey, I dream big! 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Happy 80th Birthday, Deb!

As a public service, I am sharing a wonderful e-mail from one of my my heroes: Deborah Meier who celebrates her 80th year this month. Hope it inspires you as it did me.

April 20, 2011
Dear Peter,
This month marks my 80th birthday. To every query about "what shall I give you on your 80th", I reply: "Give to FairTest."

As the billionaires pour billions--maybe trillions--into their school deform efforts on behalf of using tests to make all education decision, only one outfit is consistently out there answering them: Our David with its sling shot. Goliath will fall, eventually. But it will help if FairTest can struggle on.

Though FairTest has been around for only 25 years, its agenda is one I totally share. That's why I serve on the Board of Directors and make regular financial contributions.

If you think the work to which I have dedicated my life is important, please join me in making as generous a donation as possible to FairTest today.

To make your 80th Birthday gift honoring me, Deb Meier, please go online to; or mail your check to: FairTest, P.O. Box 300204, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130.

Many thanks for your best wishes and donations!

Deb Meier

P.S. I'm enjoying 80, it feels just as good as....79.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

You're invited!

I love encouraging people to dive into the creativity pool. Sometimes all that is needed is the invitation. Consider yourself invited.

I carry my paper and paints everywhere I go and people get curious as to what I am doing - whether in a restaurant, a cafe, an airport, a plane. After showing them what I am working on, I will often slide a piece of paper in their direction and hand them a pen or brush. I love the look on their faces.

Well, kids of course - they light up!

Adults looks shocked and nervous.

"I can't draw." I smile at the response.

I gently invite them to give it a try - many times offering to make it a collaboration. After all, a party needs at least two people to really get going.

So, consider yourself invited. Whether it is the dusty piano that hasn't been plunked on for years, or the camera waiting to be taken on a safari through a city, or the empty sheets of watercolor paper aching to be splashed upon, or that fancy journal someone gave you that has seemed to precious to make a mark in... consider the invitation to plunk, play, sketch, write, draw, paint, and dream.

And then...

invite a friend or two.

Enjoy the pARTy. : )

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Front-line Inspiration

I get quite a few folks asking me how to get started writing for children - something I love to hear because I DO feel that all of us has a story or two (or perhaps a trunk-load) to share with those around us. By the way, when I say "with those around us" - that could be our children, nieces, nephews, - and "grown up children" among our friends, family, and colleagues.

I sense that many aspiring childrens' book creators want to "make it big" by being published worldwide. I like to remind them that it's not necessary to "hit it big" with the Big World.

Sharing with your Small World is a wonderful place to start.
(You can keep that vision of world-wide distribution, but just tuck it out of view for a bit.)

Some of your best "critical friends" will be children. My own Small World is exquisite "front-line inspiration." I'm very lucky to have my very own book and toy store which I opened with my family in 2004. The photo above was taken in our workshop room. I was teaching an animation class using a program I created called Animation-ish. The two kids in the photo are both amazing spirits. Both are artists- and both inspire me.

Being around kid-energy is, for me, like breathing a special kind of oxygen. Ideas spark easily and rapidly. I keep my journal handy, as I teach, to capture the ideas for later pondering.

Kids often will tell me their ideas as they share their art and animation. My jaw drops at their originality. I often joke with them that they have 10 years to develop their ideas into books, but if they forget - their idea is MINE to run with! Their eyes get HUGE as they realize they just struck gold. That feeling, that an idea is precious, that it has merit and magic, is powerful. That feeling inspires an artist and author to stay close to their idea, the way a bird stays close to the eggs in its nest, tending it, patiently, until ready to be hatched and shared with the world - the Big World - or one's very own wonderful Small World.