Make way for Rose

Drawing attention to the Kennedy greenway is one of many ways illustrator Peter Reynolds - and his family - works his magic for kids

Email|Print| Text size + By Bella English
Globe Staff / November 12, 2007

DEDHAM - Peter Reynolds had just finished reading from his book "The Dot" at a public event when a man approached him. Would Reynolds be interested in working on a children's story about the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway? Perhaps the story could have an iconic character that could be turned into a statue for the fledgling park, like the hugely popular "Make Way for Ducklings" in the Public Garden.

"He was so much fun with the kids at that event, and I knew his books and reputation because we have grandchildren," says Peter Meade, explaining his interest in Reynolds. "I asked him if he'd think about the Greenway as a setting for one of his stories."

Reynolds was definitely interested. He told Meade, who is chairman of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Conservancy, that he would figure out a plot and character and get back to him. Then he started sketching out a book about a little girl named Rose.

The Greenway book is one of many projects percolating in Reynolds's head and on his sketchpad. His books have been translated into more than 20 languages and into Braille. A classroom in a small desert town in Australia adopted "The North Star" as its official story and named the library after it. The Mexican government ordered 200,000 copies of "The Dot" and "Ish" and made them required read ing. "Someday," which Reynolds illustrated, was on The New York Times' top 10 best-selling children's books list for four months last spring.

He won a Christopher Award for "The Dot" and a Carnegie Medal for Excellence for its film adaptation. He recently received a "Literary Lights for Children Award" at the Boston Public Library. He's been asked to do an animated film of a Holocaust survivor's story. He's the illustrator of the popular "Judy Moody" series and drew the covers for Judy Blume's "Fudge" series. This month he received the Rhode Island Children's Book Award for illustrating Megan McDonald's "Stink: The Incredible Shrinking Kid."

But Reynolds, 45, isn't content just to write and draw. He's cofounder and CEO of FableVision, an educational multimedia company that sits atop the Children's Museum. He owns the Blue Bunny book and toy shop in Dedham. And he's founder and president of the Dedham Square Circle, a civic group dedicated to promoting the town's historic business district.

If only he could clone himself, as he does to his main character in "So Few of Me."

The next best thing? Reynolds has an identical twin, Paul. They start every morning together, over coffee, and often finish each other's sentences. They also work together. As president of FableVision, Paul oversees strategies and project design, which leaves his brother free to create. Their older sister Jane runs the business side.

They grew up in Chelmsford, of eccentric British parents whose kitchen cabinets held more art supplies than groceries. The twins, who now live in Dedham, founded FableVision 10 years ago. The multimedia company produces educational films, books, and software, has 40 employees in Boston, and recently opened an office in Portland, Ore. The main office, with sweeping views of downtown and the harbor, is a jumble of toys, gadgets, and whimsical furniture. Amid this work the animators, programmers, writers, producers, and educators who create short films, software, and DVDs on topics ranging from handwriting to Carnegie Hall.

With MIT and PBS, the team is developing software that would introduce math gaming into the middle school curricula. The idea: to see whether software games can generate interest in math among middle-schoolers, whose eyes often glaze over at the rows of numbers in textbooks.

The game, created by FableVision, involves children who have lost their dogs in an underground cavern. "There are hundreds and hundreds of doors," says Peter, "and an underground legion of monsters who have figured out that dogs live seven years for every human year. So they're rounding up dogs and trying to convert their energy." Using mathematics, children must problem-solve to get their dogs back.

Reynolds himself was not a traditional learner, always doodling or drawing in class. And he was a slow reader. He graduated from Fitchburg State College, and spent a year at Massachusetts College of Art. His first big book, "The North Star," is an allegory about a boy finding his own path out of the swamp of life. "It was based on my observations of what was happening in school and how public education misses the boat with a lot of kids," says Reynolds. "The book is for kids who don't fit in, or don't 'get it.' "

Reynolds divides his time between his FableVision office downtown, a satellite office in Dedham, and the Blue Bunny bookstore. The Blue Bunny eschews Barbie and Barney for old-fashioned pastimes like chess, checkers, books, puzzles, and red wagons. Paul's wife, Janet, is the general manager. Peter, the divorced father of a college-age daughter, is engaged to an artist who owns a shop a few doors down from the Blue Bunny.

He's a peripatetic sort, often on the road speaking to students and educators and conducting drawing workshops for needy, ill, and homeless children. Even though he has a studio at the Blue Bunny, he does a lot of his drawing at various spots in Dedham Square: Isabella restaurant, Mocha Java coffee shop, and in the lobby of the Dedham Community Theater, where he created the covers for the 30th anniversary edition of Judy Blume's "Fudge" books.

About that fictional girl named Rose, of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway: She roams the world collecting seeds and, traveling via a giant teapot, lands in Boston Harbor. Rose notices all kinds of people living together, falls in love with Boston, and decides to plant her garden here. That's Reynolds's concept for the book, which will be dedicated to the late Rose Kennedy. For the Greenway, he envisions a sculpture of a large teapot with flowers growing out of it. The top lies on the ground, with Rose in it - like "Ducklings," perfect for a photo-op with kids.

The bronze ducklings in the Public Garden are one of the city's most photographed sites, and Meade says he'd love a similar draw for the Greenway. "It would be great for us to have a story that people knew," he says. "It would be a great way to introduce families to the Greenway."

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