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Inspire the Artist Within

Author, illustrator, and educator Peter H. Reynolds talks about motivating kids to do great things.
 

Learning Benefits

Peter H. Reynolds is a man with a mission: to inspire both children, as well as adults, to reach their creative potential. In this spirit, Reynolds has written and illustrated a host of prize-winning books, including The North Star, The Dot, Ish, and So Few of Me. His drawings and words are simple and smooth; his messages, poignant and inspirational. To reach further, Reynolds and his identical twin brother, Paul, founded an eclectic children's shop, The Blue Bunny, which offers books, art supplies, and creativity workshops. They also formed a multimedia education company. FableVision develops media, storytelling, and technology to give learners of every style the tools to navigate toward their true creative potential. Inspired by the words "I can't," Reynolds seizes the challenge and sets out to show doubters that they can.

 

Parent & Child: What would you say is special about the stories and characters you create? What makes your style so unique?
Peter Reynolds: I don't make "children's books," though they look like them. I try to make books for all ages. They just happen to have big images and a few words sprinkled below. Books are a way of dipping wisdom in story. Children's books pack on some incredible lessons for life's journey and they do it with very little ink wasted. For me, I let simple art and sparse text do the heavy lifting.

 

P&C: You have so many characters. Which one do you feel most strongly connected to?
Reynolds: Vashti from The Dot feels very much a part of me — of my mission. I try to inspire those around me to be brave and make their mark. Little Vashti packs a powerful punch of creativity and bravery.

I am hoping that children and, as I like to call them, grown-up children, will be moved as they read my work. Moved to laughter, to tears, to insight, to reflection, to bravery, to originality, to inspiration, and best of all — to action. I want them to put their dreams into action. I want them to find the time, the tools, and the inspiration to let the world hear their voices.

 

P&C: Why is it easier for children to be more creative than adults?
Reynolds: That first decade is a joyful ride. After that, the paradigm of rules begins to set in. There must be a recipe, a "right way," a plan that someone else crafted. I see it begin to take place around 4th or 5th grade. The creative wings begin to fold up and get pulled inside. It might take decades to get them back out and ready for flying again.

I love seeing art produced by adults who think they cannot draw. It is one of my favorite things to do — getting a nervous adult to draw for me. Often I will splash watercolor around their drawing and then ask them to sign it! Many a proud "newly discovered artist" will run out and frame his creation.

My experience is that adults fear looking stupid, but mostly because they have defined "not knowing" something as being stupid. We need to handle not knowing the way little children do — with curiosity. Ask, "Why?" Ask, "What?" and "How is that possible?" Noodle, doodle, ponder, peek, and poke. The process is a journey.

 

P&C: How do you recommend that our readers and their children get in touch with their own creativity?
Reynolds: Cut back on TV — especially aimless or violent TV — and video gaming — especially aimless or violent video gaming — and do more of everything else. Douse your house in the arts! Have plenty of supplies handy! Let your children see you making things. I can remember seeing my mum and dad make things. It was especially wonderful because they both were accountants by day, but at home they were busy making crafts and furniture. Be proud of your art. If your kids see you creating with a smile, they'll want to give it a try.

Mix up the music in your house — jazz and the blues, zydeco and classical. Musicals are wonderful, as you can all learn the songs and sing them together. Creativity is not just an arts strategy. It is a way of thinking, living, and being. To me, it means being open and generous to possibilities, to the unexpected route or destination. Science, engineering, and business all rely on this kind of thinking to reach the landscape of breakthroughs.

 

P&C: What obstacles do you face in terms of making your mark?
Reynolds: Ideas inspire more ideas. My only problem is finding enough waking hours to get it all done. Having a twin helps! In fact, this whole idea [of being too busy and needing a second "me"] was very much the inspiration for my recent book So Few of Me. I am trying to practice what I preach: "Do less, but do your best." This will be my lifelong challenge!

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