Interview: Peter H. Reynolds
Current Mood: thirsty
Current Song: I'll Be There in a Minute by Pomplamoose
Peter H. Reynolds is an author, an illustrator, and a motivator. His stories usually feature creative characters that make me smile and storylines that make me appreciate what I have. His books such as The Dot and Ish are typically shelved in the picture book section of bookstores and libraries, but they really ought to be placed in other sections as well, as they are meant to reach and inspire all ages. (I hope that the librarians, teachers, parents, and booksellers who are reading this post will help with that cross-promotion!)
This week, I had the pleasure of interviewing Peter, and he shared some cool anecdotes with me - the stories behind the stories.
What inspired your newest book, Sky Color?
The mission of the book, as well as the other two in the Creatrilogy (The Dot and Ish, Candlewick Press) was to help children protect and nurture their creative flame which all to often is squelched or not developed. As for the origin of Sky Color - it was inspired by a true story. My next door neighbor, Aldo, an Italian artist twice my age when I first met him at age 23, joined me on a job painting huge murals in The Border Cafe in Cambridge, MA. He directed me to paint the sky on one of the first big murals. Without thinking, I reached for the blue paint which he immediately grabbed out of my hand. "THIS is the only color we WON'T be using!" The question popped into my head: "How will I make the sky without blue paint?" HE showed me. He swirled brown, lime green, ivory and a few other colors and mixed. He went to the wall and painted one stroke and turned to me. "This, Peter, THIS is SKY COLOR." I got it. Wow. I felt the molecular structure of my brain shift. I would never think the same way again. I jotted the words "sky color" in my memory journal and let it percolate for over 25 years. It is now time to share with the world.
Tell us about the origin of The Dot.
The Dot was actually a mistake. Mistake-ish, rather. I love writing and drawing in my journals before I go to sleep and one night I fell asleep with my black Sharpie marker in my hand. When I awoke there was a big dot. My hand was inky black. I sighed, dropped the journal to the floor, and turned off the light. In the morning, in the light of day, the sun shone through the window onto the open journal. There it was. A big dot. Impressive, I thought. I picked up the pen and wrote "The Dot" above it and "Peter H. Reynolds" below. That became the touchstone for my book about bravely making your mark and being able to see possibility where others, and ourselves, might have missed it. If you want to know where the name of The Dot's Vashti came from - check out my blog post.
Your books are infused with a great deal of hope and positivity. What inspires your optimistic stories?
I appreciate you noticing. I think I have always been an optimist, but when 9/11 happened, I was shook to the core. I had to dig really, really deep to find strength to believe that good things were ahead. I did a lot of thinking and writing at the time. I knew that story is a powerful healer. I wove in my messages of hope, compassion, vision, bravery and creativity. Helping others is a therapy in and of itself. When I see my books inspiring my readers, it lifts me up and keeps me going.
What do you hope readers take away from your books?
The biggest mission in my books is to leave the reader feeling braver and more confident in themselves and their futures. I hope they take away some of the wisdom I have bottled up - like taking time to dream which is the theme of my book "So Few of Me" about a boy named Leo who is overwhelmed and has way too much on his plate.
You've worked with many other authors and illustrators on joint projects. What are the advantages of collaborating with another author? What are the advantages of working solo?
I love using my art to help someone else's story come to life. It has been a fun romp with Megan McDonald with the Judy Moody & Stink series. I have worked with other great talent, like Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Alison McGhee, Michelle Robinson, Judy Blume, and Sean Taylor. The advantage is that I get to enjoy making great ideas come to life and be able to be shared with the world. The challenge is not always being able to sit down face to face with my collaborator, which I personally enjoy. The other challenge is that I have so many of my own stories in the hopper that I want to make happen. With over 400 ideas for stories, I am running out of time!
In the chapter book Stink and the Midnight Zombie Walk, Stink can't wait to get a new book from the Blue Frog Bookstore. In real life, you co-own a bookstore in Massachusetts. How did The Blue Bunny bookstore get its name?
I founded The Blue Bunny Book & Toy Shop 9 years ago with my twin brother. We came up with the name as a nod to the historic Dedham Pottery once made in our hometown.
Did you frequent a hometown library or bookstore when you were little?
The Adams Library in my hometown of Chelmsford, MA was a favorite spot for me. I searched the whole library - top to bottom! I was captivated by the big stuffed crow in a glass box on the way up to the music room which was another spectacular find. I discovered jazz, musicals, classical, blues, and also found the room that housed films which I would take home, lace up the movie projector and watch. It is a great reminder that libraries are not just about books, but also a stimulating laboratory for the curious mind.
In the newest Stink story, Stink and his classmates attempt to stack up one million minutes of reading. Did you ever participate in a reading marathon or reading-related fundraiser when you were in school?
I can't remember any contests to lure me into reading. We grew up in a house of books and book lovers, so I saw the joy in reading firsthand.
What are your ten all-time favorite books?
Wow. Tough question. I assume you mean children's books and adult books. Not sure if these are my definitive Top Ten, but it’s a good sampling of what books I have enjoyed throughout my life. The top nine would include Charlie & the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier, Free To Be You & Me by Marlo Thomas and Carole Hart, Love That Dog by Sharon Creech, David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, Maus by Art Spiegelman, Cleopatra by Margaret George, John Adams by David McCullough, and Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins. My 10th is a blank book. That in fact, would be my definitive number one book.
Visit Peter's official website.
Related Posts at Bildungsroman
Author/Illustrator Spotlight: Peter H. Reynolds
Book Review: The Judy Moody series (and Stink spinoff!)
Interview: Megan McDonald