Author Illustrator Peter H. Reynolds on Creating Picture Books for All Ages

Peter H. Reynolds is aNew York Times best-selling children’s book author illustrator whose work on Vooks includes So Few of Me and Plant a Kiss. He is the brilliant mind behind The Dot, the Judy Moody series, and countless other books, as well as the founder of FableVision. We caught up with this charismatic storyteller to learn about his process, what inspires his work, and more.

What were you like as a child?

My childhood was very much shaped by being an identical twin—I was born with my best friend and built-in collaborator, Paul. Someone must have known I’d end up being a very busy lad—so perhaps with two of me, I’d stand a chance of getting my to-do list done!

We both loved drawing, puppetry, making comic books and films, and also were very involved in scouting, where we learned to put our skills to civic use. Pretty early on we developed an insatiable appetite for positive, purposeful creativity—especially related to community service. 

Did you always know you wanted to be an author/illustrator? 

Writing and drawing came as naturally as breathing. It also helped that our parents were essentially bookkeepers (the financial kind,) as well as being book keepers—as in my mother was addicted to buying books and, at night after coming home from the office, my dad would keep making bookshelves for her ever-expanding collection. So I was immersed in a world where books and storytelling were part of who we were. My brother, Paul, and I started our own illustrated school newspaper in second grade, and our dad would photocopy them for us at the office. That’s how we developed an early love of publishing.

What drew you to children’s literature specifically?

Actually, I’m not really a fan of calling the work I do “children’s books”—I create “picture books for all ages.” I like to think that my books speak to young and older alike. In fact, the older one gets, the more they understand the messages in my books.

What’s your favorite part of the book creation process?

It’s all a dreamy process to me. I love coming up with the spark of an idea, then racing to get it documented as a sketch on a napkin, note card, etc. Not every book flows out effortlessly—some take years, in fact, but there is truly nothing more exciting than opening the first package I get containing my first author’s copy of a new book. I savor every page, knowing that this little book is about to venture out into the world and touch countless lives. Truly a gift that keeps on giving. 

What inspires your work and the stories you tell?

I’m committed to creating “stories that matter—stories that move,” which is the core mission of my media company, FableVision. I want to use my creativity to focus on making the world a better place, so I ask, “What does the world need more of (compassion, justice, environmental stewardship, etc.) and what does it need less of (hate, racism, fear, self-doubt, pollution, etc.)?” I also hope the themes of my books cultivate the courage and creativity required for everyone to discern their gifts and use their voices and creativity to make this world better, kinder, more peaceful, and sustainable.

What comes first for you—the plot or the characters?

It’s always a mix. Sometimes a dramatic situation will hit me as the key idea, and sometimes I’ll create a sketch of a character that is begging to have their story told.

Tell us a little bit about
So Few of Me. Where did the idea for this book come from?

As my own animation, media, and publishing career accelerated, I found myself busier and busier. I even took the Franklin Covey course for time management to tame my ever growing “to-do” lists. But I got so efficient wrangling the daily list of tasks, I wasn’t making time to hear myself think . . . or dream of my next truly original idea. It really was my own creative self-therapy! I hope it helps others to remember to take time to dream of what they’re truly meant to do.  

What lessons can little minds learn from
So Few of Me and why do you think they are so important?

I think the little ones are amused by the ensuing chaos of the multiple Leos, but I hope that parents are also reading this book and make sure they’re not unintentionally overs-scheduling their children—or themselves. We all live in a rush-rush, tech-distracted world, so we need to develop mindfulness around what matters most. And sometimes that means walking away from the to-do list or the jam-packed schedule to find sanctuary to hear ourselves think and be more fully present to each other. 

In addition to
So Few of Me, Vooks has also animated another one of your titles,Plant a Kiss. What has it been like seeing your work come to life with animation.

It’s such a thrill to see my work come to life in multiple forms, increasing the number of ways that people can connect to the big ideas in each book. I really love So Few of Me and Plant a Kiss, which sometimes get overshadowed by works like the Judy Moody series or The Dot. It brings me joy that these two titles are getting the spotlight in the Vooks world!

Lastly, if you could meet any one of the characters you’ve helped write or illustrate, which one would it be and why?

I’d love to hang out with Vashti [from The Dot]. She’s just a cool kid, creative and compassionate. We’d sip some tea and ponder the impact of her story—which has reached over 21 millions students and teachers in 196 countries. Interestingly, her story, The Dot, and the two other books in the Creatilogy are being turned into a musical by TheatreWorks USA in NYC. My brother Paul and I got to go to an early development workshop a few weeks ago, and were blown away by the music and talent. And, I have to say, it was kind of trippy to be hanging out with, talking to, and hugging the characters I’ve created in that series, including Vashti, Ramon, Leon, and Marisol. Pretty dreamy!