How a Local Company Got To Illustrate an Astronaut’s Book for Kids

Commander Chris Hadfield called FableVision cofounder Peter H. Reynolds from outer space.

Photo via FableVision

Photo via FableVision

Commander Chris Hadfield has seen Boston from outer space—he even tweeted a photo of it during his five-month expedition on the International Space Station, where he was the first Canadian astronaut to lead a major mission on the vessel.

But now that he is back on Earth, Hadfield is reconnecting with the city and calling on artists from a local educational media company to turn his adventures into a children’s book. He’s teaming up with FableVision cofounder Peter H. Reynolds to produce the literature. “[It will] look like picture books, but they’re designed to deliver some big ideas to grown-ups, too. The book will bottle up some great wisdom and inspiration from Chris,” said Reynolds.

The artist’s recent chats about the project with Hadfield weren’t the first interactions the pair had together.

Sometime before Hadfield boarded the ISS in Russia to take on his five-month mission, Reynolds noticed he had a new follower on Twitter. “I wondered, ‘Why would a Canadian astronaut be following me?’,” said Reynolds.

His question was answered a few days later when he was perusing in The Blue Bunny, a book and toy shop in his hometown of Dedham. Reynolds tweeted that he was in the store, when suddenly, the store’s phone rang. The staff member at The Blue Bunny, with her hand on the receiver, turned to Reynolds and said “Pete, it’s for you—he says he’s an astronaut.”

Hadfield saw the tweet and decided to call the artist right then and there, from Moscow, just weeks before he blasted off into outer space.

Reynolds said Hadfield explained that he had a multi-book deal with Random House Canada, and the deal included a children’s book. The commander said he hoped Reynolds would help him illustrate it when he returned. “As a boy, I was hooked on Lost in Space and Star Trek, and I was eight when I watched the first moon landing. Here I was, four decades later talking to an astronaut,” said Reynolds. “It was surreal and very inspiring. Makes you wonder what other [impossibilities] might be possible.”

Reynolds kept a close eye on Hadfield over the next five months as he traversed the atmosphere, orbiting above the earth, tweeting photos of his journey. Hadfield even called Reynolds from the space station.

A copy of one of Reynolds children’s books was expedited to the space station, shot into orbit on a rocket, and it stayed for the rest of Hadfield’s trip on board. “[He] snapped a few [pictures] of my book floating in the cupola. On his last day of his Boston visit, he handed me my book, which he had signed, noting that this copy…had made 2,500 trips around the [world],” said Reynolds.

When he returned in May, after serving as the commander of the ISS alongside American and Russian astronauts, Hadfield packed his bags and drove from Canada to Boston with his wife, Helene, to visit Reynold’s studio in the Innovation District.

Reynolds and Hadfield spent roughly a week meeting, chatting, and getting to know one another. “I got to spend a week with him creating something very special. It was a feeling of great responsibility to help him tell his story.”

At the conclusion of their hangout sessions, they had an idea of what the project would entail. “The book will be in much the same format as my other books The Dot, Ish, and The North Star,” said Reynolds.

They are hoping to have the book finished sometime next fall as Reynolds and Hadfield continue to work closely together, ironing out the details and finalizing the concept.

Reynolds said creating a children’s book can usually take up to two years with a lot of technicalities and coordination muddling the process. But working with Hadfield has been both inspirational and easy-going, he said. “We have been shaping the story together. He has suggested art and I have shared ideas for prose. His hands-on, collaborative style is a natural outgrowth of a guy who has spent his life working with a team,” said Reynolds. “I had once told [a reporter], during an interview, that my ‘North Star’ dream was to be the first children’s book author in space. Commander Hadfield helped get me a few steps closer to that dream.”