New Storybook Transports Kids & Grown Up Kids To Meet Massachusetts' Famed Conservationist Who Saved State's Most Precious Places

Massachusetts’ Best-Selling Author/Illustrator Duo Commissioned to Create Commemorative Storybook to Celebrate The Trustee's 125th Anniversary - the Commonwealth's Largest Conservation & Preservation Non-Profit

What kind of child grows up to change the world? The Trustees of Reservations, the Commonwealth's largest conservation and preservation organization, knows the answer. As part of their 125th anniversary celebration they commissioned FableVision co-founders Peter H. Reynolds and Paul A. Reynolds to write a commemorative-edition children’s picture book as a tribute to a little boy named Charley Eliot—who would grow up to be Massachusetts’ visionary preservationist and founder of The Trustees of Reservations—now known simply as The Trustees.

The story, written by Paul and illustrated by Peter, features ten-year old Charley Eliot, who enlists his friends to protect a grove of ancient oaks that are being cleared to make way for a road. He dubs them "The Knights of the Woods," and together they come to the rescue of their beloved trees where they always played. As Charley announces at the end of the story, they vow to protect and preserve all special places—the fields, the mountains, the beaches and the woods for all—and for all time.

Along with family-friendly programs, camps, events, and activities, the new storybook introduces the Trustees’ mission to carry on Eliot’s legacy to a whole new generation. As Trustees President and CEO Barbara Erickson notes, “We hope that this inspirational story of our imaginative and forward-thinking founder from the talented Reynolds brothers will spread the passion for conservation to the younger generations and encourage them to visit and find magical moments and inspirations at our scenic, recreational, natural and cultural sites.” 

FableVision’s founder and New York Times best-selling author/illustrator Peter H. Reynolds is excited about the book’s impact. “At FableVision, we’re very fond of visionaries—and Charles Eliot truly was one. I’m thrilled to be able to draw attention to his vision and mission that allowed The Trustees to protect so many of Massachusetts’ most precious sites for 125 years,” shared Reynolds.

Reynolds’ twin brother Paul, who recently landed the Library of Congress MassBook Award for Best Picture Book of the Year for his storybook collaboration with Peter called Going Places, was deeply touched by this project. “In researching, I learned that Eliot’s life was tragically cut short at age 37 by spinal meningitis, after which his father Charles W. Eliot, who was President of Harvard University, wrote a 770-page biography of his son’s life. Reading it, I felt as if Eliot’s father transported through time and was sitting next to me sharing about his remarkable little boy. Building on those details, I tried to create a story that would capture his son’s love for nature and history—a passion that would propel little Charley into a lifetime of conservation advocacy. The landscape of Massachusetts was impacted for generations because of this man’s vision. I hope this story inspires all ages to continue Eliot’s vision through the work of The Trustees, and that it will foster the next generation of stewardship of our natural and historic resources.”  

Peter, Paul and Julia stand with a picture of Charles Eliot.

Peter, Paul and Julia stand with a picture of Charles Eliot.

The endpapers at the front and back of the book feature full-color illustrations by the Reynolds’ longtime colleague and fellow FableVisionary Julia Anne Young who is also a writer, illustrator, and designer. Young’s drawings feature a handful of The Trustees’ signature properties around the Commonwealth. 

Attendees of The Trustee’s 125th Anniversary Gala in May received advance copies of the storybook. Released in a limited-edition printing, the Charley Eliot and the Knights of the Woods storybook was carefully hand-bound by FableVision’s print partner, Bridgeport National Bindery (BNB) in Agawam, MA. 

BNB’s Michele Brennan explains, “Our most seasoned hand-binder from our library division, an immigrant from Moldova who has been with Bridgeport for nearly 35 years, used the time-honored technique fan binding. This is a centuries-old skill, one we decided to use once I shared the mission of The Trustees. Bridgeport preserves these skills and passes them on to our younger interns. It seemed appropriate to bind the books in this way to honor The Trustees’ 125th Anniversary.” 

Limited quantities of the collectors-edition book are also available at 12 sites, including The Trustees’ most visited National Historic Landmarks: Castle Hill on the Crane Estate in Ipswich and Naumkeag House and Gardens in Stockbridge. Additional Trustees locations carrying the limited-edition book include Appleton Farms Dairy Store in Ipswich, KITCHEN at the Boston Public Market, Appleton Farms’ booth at the Boston Public Market, The Old Manse in Concord, Powisset Farm Guest House at Field Farm in Dover, Tully Lake Campground in Royalston, and Dunes Edge Campground in Provincetown.

Celebrate this special book with Peter and Paul during special book signing events this summer, including a public unveiling and birthday party at the Boston Public Library on Saturday, July 23, as well as special teacher/librarian event at The Blue Bunny Books in Dedham later this year.

The Trustees’ 125th anniversary celebrations will continue throughout the year with other public events and celebrations. Festivities include a Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra concert on Aug. 6, hosted for the first time ever at Castle Hill on the Crane Estate in Ipswich. 

Henry Herz Interviews FableVision Founder Peter H. Reynolds

Have you ever wondered how FableVision started? Well your questions will soon be answered. Henry Herz, a writer for children's fantasy and science fiction, recently sat down with FableVision founder Peter H. Reynolds to ask him a few questions regarding his experience in writing and illustrating children's books. The following article first appeared on Henryherz.com.

FableVision founder Peter H. Reynolds

FableVision founder Peter H. Reynolds

H: For what age audience do you write?

P: I create picture books–often referred to as children’s books, but I write them for all ages.

H: Tell us about your latest book.

P: Playing from the Heart was recently published by Candlewick. It’s a story about a boy named Raj who discovers a piano in his house. His playful and joyful explorations are followed by years of lessons. Many years later he rediscovers the original joy of his childhood “playing.”

H: What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?

P: I hope the book encourages us to hold on to joy we knew as children, but also to encourage parents and teachers to allow kids play–as well as themselves. Kids don’t need instructions in the sandbox. They can play for hours with no guidance and no assessment. There is no pressure that their sand playing abilities will be tested. We don’t have to be great at things that bring us joy and conversely, sometimes the things we are good at don’t bring us joy. These are ideas that fascinate me.

H: What aspect of writing or illustrating do you find most challenging?

P: My biggest challenge is to keep the energy and looseness of my original sketches. Traditional publishing involves a team and a process of sketches, comments, editing, revisions, finals, revisions to finals–it can yield some polished results, but it can also wear down the original, raw energy. My challenge is to shelter that spark through the process.

H: I’ve experienced the same thing with my picture book manuscripts. I have to be careful not to allow critiques to mask the original voice and heart of the story.

H: What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer/illustrator?

P: Creating a moving and memorable story is one of the hardest math problems you’ll ever solve. The logic of a story is the backbone. Keeping the art and text lean and sparse allows the backbone to stand strong and not get lost.

H: I write, but do not illustrate. I remember, when I first started writing, how hard it was for me to let go – to not include much scene description, to not add copious art notes. It’s hard trusting someone (the illustrator) you’ve never met.

H: What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer/illustrator? 

P: A 6th grade girl reached out to me and shared how my book Ish changed her self-identify. She had struggled with being a perfectionist. My book had helped her see things in a whole new way. This made me aware of the impact my work could have on people around the world. It amazes me that I can touch peoples lives without ever meeting them.

H: Yes, the amazing power of books and the internet.

H: What advice would you give to aspiring authors or illustrators?

P: Let it flow, not just work hard. In fact, the “working hard” can often dull your instincts. Just let it flow. Your way. Your journals belong to you. You never have to share them unless you find something in those pages that you feel needs to be shared. My other advice: keep going, never stop.

H: Yup. Never stop learning. Never stop writing. Never stop submitting.

H: Do you have any favorite quotes?

P: “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” — Horace Mann

“Pessimism is destructive. Realism lacks imagination. Optimism inspires and opens doors.” — Bert Jacobs.

This is a little poem I heard when I was 15 and it has stuck with me all these years: I Meant To Do My Work Today by Richard LeGallienne

I meant to do my work today,
But a brown bird sang in the apple tree,
And a butterfly flitted across the field,
And all the leaves were calling me.
And the wind went sighing over the land,
Tossing the grasses to and fro,
And a rainbow held out its shining hand,
So what could I do but laugh and go?”

H: Beautiful. Plus, ode to ADHD.

H: Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you work?

P: I like being barefoot while I draw and write. I haven’t really thought too much about it, but I suppose it could be connected to the freedom I felt when we moved to the grassy suburbs of Chelmsford, MA from the city of Somerville, MA when I was 6 years old. The first thing I did when I jumped out of the car at our new house was to take my shoes and socks off and run through the dewy grass. By the way, lot of my character are shoeless.

H: If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

P: Instant transport. Blinking my eyes and being in a new place. I am eager to experience the entire planet, meet as many people, experience as many cultures as I can, but traditional travel is exhausting and time consuming. I’d love to blink and be in India. Blink: Iran. Blink: South Korea. Blink: Brazil. Blink: the International Space Station. I am certain the experiences would inspire new insights and stories.

H: That WOULD be handy. Plus, no waiting in airport lines.

H: If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?

P: DEAD:
Aesop – I’m a big fan of fables.
William Steig – I had the pleasure of one dinner with him. We painted together. I’d love to do that again.
Charles Dickens – He was a champion of the underdog. His books captivated me as a young boy.

ALIVE:
Tom Robbins – I’m a huge fan of his quirky, brilliant brain.
Judy Blume – I have had the honor of meeting her and creating covers for some of her books, but I’d love to have a meal with her.
Any elementary school kid – They are natural storytellers. Honest. Funny. Inspiring.

H: Next day, 4,329 elementary school kids show up at Peter’s house…

H: What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature? 

P: My recent favorite is the Snatchabook (featured in the book by Helen and Thomas Docherty)

H: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

P: I love being with my kids. My 29 year old daughter, Sarah and my almost 5 year old, Henry Rocket. I also love spending time in my wonderful downtown of Dedham, MA and more specifically, in my bookshop: The Blue Bunny.

H: I approve wholeheartedly of the name Henry Rocket and an author owning a bookshop.

The Blue Bunny bookstore located in Dedham, MA

The Blue Bunny bookstore located in Dedham, MA

H: What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

P: That is one project I’d prefer not to think too much about. I am absolutely stunned thinking that this blessed journey on Earth has to end. I don’t think the tombstone needs to say anything. My books, films, work will do that for me. You DID make me imagine a tombstone that was designed by kids. OR a big stone dot that people would be encouraged to write on, paint on, make their mark. That would make me smile.

H: Giant stone dot with paint set it is – hopefully a long time from now.

H: Where can folks find your work?

P: All sorts of places. My bookshop in Dedham, MA. Your local library and indie bookshop, I hope. For more info, see my website.

Thanks, Henry. I enjoyed pondering your questions and sharing my thoughts with your readers.

H: Thanks for spending time with us, Peter. This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.

Can't get enough of Peter? Click here to read more about FableVision's founder.