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Friday, October 14, 2016

Omran... #ThisIsStillAleppo

Omran Daqneesh

It has been weeks since I drew this image after seeing the heart-wrenching news footage. I saw this little boy, covered in dust, dazed and confused, rubbed his head as blood flowed from a wound. He looked at his hand and then rubbed the blood onto the orange seat of the ambulance. Perhaps it resonated more deeply because I have a son about the same age and I couldn't imagine him having to go through the same experience. I was so grateful to the first responders, The White Helmets who risked their own lives to rescue this boy 

Tragically, the bombing continues as of today. I have been devastated by the continual news reports coming from Syria, but also inspired by  Omran Daqneesh, the 5-year-old boy in Aleppo, Syria remains a symbol for all those in need--especially those who do not have a voice. A good overview of ways we can help... #childrenofaleppo #childrenofsyria 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Rare Moments

I painted this in Bologna, Italy. April 2016. I love my Bologna time... the book fair happens each spring.... the week gives me a chance to put the brakes on and spend a week quietly listening to myself think.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Going Home: Playing from the Heart

It's always a dreamy day when I finally hold the first copy of a book I've created. Playing from the Heart, released this week on April 12th,  is extra special to me. I'll share the behind the scenes details of how this book came to be later, but today I wanted to share a letter that illuminates the spirit of the book.

My friends, Ann Crewdson and Linda Erst visited me in Boston a few months ago. I happened to have an advanced copy of my new book, Playing from the Heart which I read aloud to them.

Here is Ann's letter:

Dear Peter,

Linda and I had the honor of hearing you read PLAYING FROM THE HEART out loud to us. Your character, Raj's story reminded me of my father-in-law who played the clarinet for years. He was a music major, but after serving in the military in WWII, he decided to be a dentist. 

He had lost touch with music for decades until my daughter, Victoria picked up the violin as an instrument.  He attended every single concert and I could swear he lived through her violin playing, vicariously.  He attended almost every single one of her Seattle Youth Symphony concerts until he couldn't do it anymore due to infirmary. 

Before he passed away, one of his last wishes was to have my daughter play "Going Home" at his funeral with her violin. 

It was in this moment that I connected your book with my memory.  

It brought me to tears.

And that is what I meant when I said the book is about "going home"
to your talent and the persistence of the human spirit.  

My father-in-law lives on in my children.

Kindest regards,

I asked Ann if I could share her connection to the story and she kindly allowed me to share it here. While my book is about music, about connecting deeply to the joy of expressing your spirit, it is also a book about what connects us all: love. 

It is my hope that my book will inspire others to "go home" to the place where joy lives--to perhaps a time when it flowed more easily--and to "go home" and rediscover the "chords" that keep us connected. 

Playing from the Heart is published by Candlewick Press who also published The Dot, Ish, The North Star, So Few of Me, and Rose's Garden.

Monday, January 25, 2016

"Who are you?" The North Star Questions

I created this image in 1998--inspired by The North Star book that I published the year before. Once I started thinking about the journey--it was hard to STOP thinking about it.  

 Where had I been? 

 Where was I now? 

Where was I going?  

Where was that I wanted to be going

That last question was THE big North Star question. Just making a few degrees change to the course can land you in a very different place eventually. Ocean navigators know this well. 

Oddly, during my school journey, we rarely seemed have much time for "North Star" thinking. I DO remember being asked:  "What did you do on your summer vacation?" It was the standard, back-to-school chestnut which at least asked me to share a bit about me beyond the classroom. There were, to be fair, a number of teachers along the way who did care about me, but it was rare that the curriculum supported them being able to get me thinking and writing about who I was and what was going in inside my head.

The North Star Interview

I rounded up a few North Star questions for you.  There are plenty more. You'll probably start thinking of them yourself once you get rolling. Your answers will help create a great snapshot of who you are--who you are becoming.

1. What is something important to you?

2. What special talent do you have?

3. What place has special meaning to you?

4. Who has helped you find your way?

5. What do you hope to do someday?

6. What do you need to be more happy?

7. What is a big dream you have--if reality wasn't an obstacle?

8. Who have you helped along the way?

9. If you wrote a book about your life up until now what would the title be?

10. If you wrote a book about your future what would it be titled?

Your answers will lead to more reflection and perhaps writing, drawing, painting, and singing. It might help you choose the next book you read or film to watch--or film to make! 

It's totally up to you. 

Your path. 

Your journey.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Rescued Poem

I found this in my studio among my journals. A road-weary little journal. The cheapest kind you can buy in a drugstore. This page had obviously been almost washed away by rain. Or melting snowflakes--seeing that it was a Boston winter of 2003.

It took some effort to decipher:

There will be
stretches of goodness,
like rivers of wheat fields,
and occasional
storms, sudden
and angry

Words. A moment in time. 

Almost lost to rain or snow.

The result looks tears-ish. 

Monday, January 4, 2016

How to Recharge Your Spirit in One Easy Step

How do you charge your creative "batteries"? 

Well, for me there is one easy way: connect with kids.  

On most days, I am busy in my studio creating books and films--but when I am lucky enough to break free and venture into schools--I experience the joy of "connecting the dots" with my audience. (Well, half of them anyway, as I try to create my picture books for all ages.)

Schools usually have me do several assemblies where I speak to a few hundred students at a time which I enjoy immensely, but it is after the "big show" is over when I get to connect with kids in an informal way. Some teachers let their kids linger a bit and they get a chance to connect. They bubble with enthusiasm, rattling off comments and asking questions. Timid kids get their chance to share with me. Their insights always delight and inspire me. It is amazing what they pick and what resonates with them. It is a reminder to me that kids are philosophers and deep thinkers. Some are comedians. They are creatives. Idea generators. Poets.

I was at St. Peter's School in Lincoln, Nebraska where the photo above was taken. I was swarmed with kids and tried to connect with each student the best I could. One student asked me:

"How old are you?" 

I paused trying to think of a clever answer.

A bright eyed lad named Nicholas jumped in to answer for me.

"You are as kind as when you were a child, as nice as you are now--and as wise as you will be in the future." 

Stunned--I just smiled--and said, "Yup--you guessed it." 

Batteries: recharged. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Can We All Get Along?

It has been almost a quarter century since the Rodney King incident. 

His words after the ensuing riot: 

"People, I just want to say, can we all get along? Can we get along?"

As poignant as ever.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Queen Mum

In honor of Mother's Day this weekend...

I salute "Queen Mum." 

We are blessed to still have our mother with us--alive and well-- full of sparkle. 

Hazel Etheldreda Gasson Reynolds. 

Born in London in 1925, Mum is celebrating her 90th year on the planet. 

Hazel Gasson survived the bombing of London during World War II, went to work at Lloyd's bank of London where she met bank customer, Keith Hamilton Reynolds who had just finished his seven years of service in the Royal Air Force. Wedding bells. Andrew born. Jane born. The growing family moved to Canada. Peter and Paul born.  Then on to America where she and Dad raised their five children--Irene rounding out the group.  

I could--and should--write a book about Mum. I smile because if I did, Mum would want to rewrite the whole thing. She is famous for saying:

"Now... what I would have said...."  

"Now... what I would have done...."

My book, edited by Mum or not, would share how she made growing up an easy and joyful experience. Bumps and challenges along the way, of course, but she made the journey smoother with her love, her twinkly energy, her hard work, her staunch defense of anyone not supporting or understanding her kids. 

Her smile, her care, her laugh. 

Her creativity. By day, she was a book keeper for various companies. A manufacturer of reflective decals for locomotives, a lumber company, a cable TV company, and The Association of Independent Schools of New England

She would get home in the afternoons, make a cup of tea, sit at the kitchen table with us and ask us to re-tell, in detail, the full episode of her favorite soap opera which she often missed due to work. Not your typical soap, but Dark Shadows--a show about a vampire. This was years before a VCR could tape the show- so she resorted to us "taping" it in our heads and sharing. (I wrote a blog about this.) This was great fun for us, a unique bonding experience, but also some seriously good training for storytelling--paving the way for a future of storytelling and story sharing.

With so much on her plate already, Mum still had time for service to her community. She was active for decades in the Scouting program in England, Canada and the USA. She taught religious education--doing so in wonderfully creative ways--using music an art to help kids connect with the messages. Again, Mum was an amazing role model for her children. 

And she still is!

Mum lives on the Cape and is still going full steam ahead. The kettle is always ready for tea. The photo of Queen Elizabeth hangs on the wall, but our Queen Mum reigns royally in our lives. She has created an amazing kingdom. We are blessed to have her continue to guide us, inspire us. 

Happy Mother's Day, Queen Mum! 

Friday, May 1, 2015

Dare to Innovate

I am busy working on several new books, but I like taking a break now and again to either just sketch whatever comes to mind in my journal or to get my my mind noodling on a small project. This "breather time" helps me relax, get recharged, and feel that rush when you get something done.

I was asked by MassCue (Massachusetts Computer Using Educators) to create a conference logo based on the theme, "Dare to Innovate." The theme is definitely my cup of tea. Rather than anything too futuristic, I wanted a whimsical image showing a group of kids collaborating--fusing interests and strengths. My twin brother, Paul and I explored this theme in our book, Going Places. We are big fans of STEAM (Adding the A to STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), hence the dash of design and music. For more info about the conference which is only 20 minutes from my home studio, check out the conference page.

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 created using Animation-ish. 

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!