An Interview with Peter H. Reynolds, Illustrator of Tess's Tree

Tess's Tree

Print out a copy of this interview with Peter H. Reynolds—illustrator of Tess's Tree and other books—for your students to read. Afterward, have them write their reactions to the interview. Ask them if any of his answers surprised them and what they would like to ask Mr. Reynolds about being an illustrator. We also have more activities you can use with Tess's Tree.

Visit Mr. Reynold's Website to find out more about this award-winning illustrator.

TeacherVision Editors: What gave you the idea for the drawings in Tess's Tree? Did you come up with them all on your own, or did you discuss your ideas with the author, Jess M. Brallier?

Peter H. Reynolds: When I read Jess's story, it played like a film in my head. Very vivid and clear. I picked up my pen and started drawing and the images just poured out. I've known Jess for a long time—and consider him as one of my most creative friends. He's got a good heart, which shows in the story of Tess's Tree.

Tess's Tree was based on a real event in Jess's life—and his "story radar" went off—he knew it was an important message to share. That's when you know you have an authentic story—when a moment of insights and wisdom hits you and you feel compelled to share it with the world. This is how I work—and so Jess and I have become kindred spirits on the creative journey.

TeacherVision Editors: Did you have a favorite place or special tree, like Tess, when you were growing up?

Peter H. Reynolds: Our house where I grew up was nestled in the midst of tall pine trees—as if our house sprouted in the middle of the forest. There was also one very large beech tree on the edge of the property with low and graceful branches that were perfect for climbing. Our family sold the house after I went to college. I returned years later to see the old house and was devastated to see that almost every pine tree had been stripped from the property. It was a very emotional moment for me—of deep loss. This is another reason why Tess's Tree resonated so deeply with me.

I now have a special Gum Maple tree in the backyard of my 200 year old house here in Dedham, MA. In fact, I shared my tree with kids all over the world in the Japan-USA Tree Watch project. Here is more information about the project, including my Writing Tips Essay called "Paint Yourself a Story...Watch it Bloom"

TeacherVision Editors: Have you always wanted to be an illustrator? What got you started?

Peter H. Reynolds: It isn't that I "wanted" to be an illustrator—I think I was born with a pencil in my hand and I never put it down. I had a family that supported that passion—and educators who understood how to connect the dots to learning using my love of art.

The only reason I do what I do now is that I never gave up—I got better at what I did because I kept on going. But I know sometimes in life you feel like putting your pencil down—like Ramon did in my story Ish—but we have to remember that the first time we do something, it may not be perfect—but that's okay. It may just be "perfect-ish"—and the important things is that it's your vision, your story, your art, your idea. And original ideas are the most precious thing you can give to the world. Keep them flowing!

TeacherVision Editors: How many books have you illustrated? Do you have any favorites?

Peter H. Reynolds: I've written and illustrated dozens of stories, including drawing Judy Moody for my good friend Megan McDonald, but my favorite books are probably The Dot and Ish. They are my "mission books" which I wrote and illustrated - and are in over twenty languages around the world—encouraging people to brave about their own voice - and explore the most creative ways to express it.

TeacherVision Editors: Do you have a different process for illustrating TeleFables, like Tess's Tree, than you do for illustrating print books?

Peter H. Reynolds: FableVision created the TeleFable as a way to make stories even more accessible to everyone—without losing the feeling of the traditional book. Usually I am using a complete digital process to create the books—with my Wacom digital stylus and tablet. And because I can program in interactive "hot spots," we can build in links to explore after you've enjoyed the story—to learn more about me or my company FableVision, or other things that may interest the reader.

TeacherVision Editors: On your Website, you have links to books you've both written and illustrated. Is it a different experience to illustrate your own writing?

Peter H. Reynolds:When I'm writing the words in my own stories I actually think in pictures—so I see the images as I write. When I illustrate someone else's story, the pictures I see may not be the images that the author sees. So it's important to me to communicate and collaborate with my co-creators...and sometimes the combination creates brand new, serendipitous ideas which is always a joy.

Visual thinking is really, really important to me and that's why my company FableVision helped launch a new product called SmartMoves, which we call "body puzzles for the mind." This is an easy way to keep stretching your brain—connecting what you see, what you do and how you learn. My own mind-body connection is very strong—probably because I've doodled my whole life—but everyone can exercise that part of the brain to express what's inside your head and make it visible to the world.

TeacherVision Editors: Are you working on anything right now?

Peter H. Reynolds: I just finished up the 10th Anniversary Edition of a book I wrote and illustrated called The North Star (Candlewick Press), which is one of my most important stories—encouraging people to follow their dreams—no matter what the obstacles—and to help others on their journeys too.

I'm also jumping into the fourteenth book in the Judy Moody/Stink series—called Judy Moody & Stink in The Great Treasure Hunt. I have over a hundred stories in various stages of development, as well as a book for grown up kids and a screenplay for a major motion picture. Luckily I have an identical twin brother Paul who is helping me get all my projects done—as well as my own media company called FableVision where I have thirty talented people who are helping me bring my work to people everyday.

I also just launched an animation software program (—created by my team at FableVision—for ages 3 to 103. It's a very easy-to-use tool that invites EVERYONE to make their mark and see it move!

Check out our literature guide on Tess's Tree, which includes more activities for your students to enjoy. Plus, visit to read the book online.

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