Glancing around it’s clear that nobody else has brought their kids. Behind us is a trickling procession of what I assume to be parents and teachers filling the metal folding chairs.
Do they know who we’re about to meet? They seem to be acting so-normal.
Sure, they probably know his name if they’re here, but do they know enough to sit in the front row and make fan signs (okay, we didn’t make fan signs, hopefully our smiles and our sketchbooks convey our feelings).
We’ve been Peter H. Reynolds fans for a couple of years now. Our two favorite books, Ish and The Dot, still impact us on each new read. I’d been a recovering perfectionist for years before I began to think Ish-ly. And I’ve seen his books opens doors to art for both kids and adults, alike.
An older woman next to us turns and starts a conversation. She seems to know Peter H. Reynolds much better than us, so I ask her, “How do you know him?”
A Glimpse at His Heart
She tells her story:
“My husband and I experienced a tragedy, we lost our son.
One day my husband asked me what I needed, what I wanted and I said I wanted to go to the Blue Bunny Bookstore (a store owned by Mr. Reynolds and his twin brother, a fact I certainly didn’t know before that moment).
Right away my husband bought plane tickets and made hotel arrangements and soon after we headed to Massachusetts. I didn’t have any expectation to meet Peter, and my husband said ‘Buy anything you want’, so off I went.
While I was walking around my husband went to the front desk, ‘My wife would really like to meet Peter Reynolds.’ The person at the desk called Peter up and he offered to come and meet us at the coffee shop across the street. And so we sat and had coffee with Peter Reynolds! I told him how his books had changed my life and about our tragedy, but he didn’t know any of that before he agreed to meet with a couple of strangers. Since then we’ve all been kindred spirits.”
Then she showed me her “Dot” heart necklace, painted by Mr. Reynold’s wife, in the style of his book, The Dot.
Well, I certainly knew a little bit more about the author’s heart from that story. I already knew he loved art, and opening the doors for kids and adults to do art, but here was something-more.
She went on to talk to me about his books, more books than I ever knew he had written, particularly one that chronicled a moment in an autistic child’s life. Someone from Mr. Reynolds group had just given her a free copy of it and she handed it to me to read.
Now I knew a lot more and Mr. Reynolds hadn’t even spoken yet.
His Heart Spoke, Our Hearts Listened
When he did speak, he may have used words and shown videos, but it was his heart that spread throughout the room.
It clearly didn’t escape his notice that my kids were in the room and he regularly engaged them with eye contact and words.
“Do you think you’ll fly to the moon?” he asked my 11 year old.
And as he talked about kids changing the world he directed the end of that phrase to her.
Again and again he met the eyes of my two kiddos and they remained dedicated to him.
Through stories of his childhood, of how he named his characters, of his involvement with writing the book about autistic children, we knew him a little more.
Eventually we stood in line to get some artwork signed.
We gushed our appreciation when we finally reached him (he had earlier that day signed 300 books, a inscription and doodle in every book, so I knew he must be tired).
The Final Layer
“It seems from listening to you tonight, that you’re a Christian?”
“Yes, I am,” he smiled. ”In fact, my brother and I consider all that we do to be our ministry. When I spoke at a school once they pulled me aside and said they were a little unsure what I might say after reading my book The North Star. ’Good’, I said.”
“Well, that’s a wonderful layer that we didn’t know about, it great for my kids to see someone who is following the Lord and using their gifts fully as adults.”
Then he took a few moments to look at their artwork, and ask them what their names meant, and finally when they told him how much they loved his tiny watercolors that he had shown during the talk (about 1 by 2 inches), he paused, pulled them out, and gave the tiny set to them.
As we walked out into the dim, almost abandoned parking lot of the school you could hear my girls shouting.
“He gave us his watercolors!”
“Oh my gosh, they’re mixed, he really used these, he touched these!”
An author and artist to them is parallel to what pop bands were to me when I was 11. I felt like a grown-up kid myself as we headed to the car.
I think Mr. Reynolds would have enjoyed my 9 year old’s comment as we drove home.
“So, did you enjoy it Jellyfish?”
“Enjoy it! I loved everything that he said. It’s good for me to see an adult Christian artist who’s okay with not doing things perfect and making mistakes. I’m someone who wants to do everything just right and very realisitic. I think that’s really good for me to meet someone like him.”
She’s decided it’s okay to be perfect-ish.
Books to check out by Peter H. Reynolds
He has more than what’s listed above and a new series coming out, included a chapter book he’s working on now.
Activities Related to His Books
During his talk, he demonstrated his animation program that allows kids (and grown-up kids) to draw and the animate their drawings. All of three of us were itching to get our hands on it. You can check it out here.
The Blue Bunny Bookstore
Stop by his store The Blue Bunny the next time you get to Massachusetts.