On a day when “for no particular reason, nothing was going right,” a young narrator packs up his worries, fears, and frustrations and decides to “go left,” leaving his heavy burdens by the side of the road. The consequence of this wise decision play out in When Things Aren’t Going Right, Go Left, a picture book by debut author Marc Colagiovanni, featuring art by celebrated picture book creator Peter H. Reynolds, whose collaboration sprung from a family member’s fortuitous introduction—and an immediate sense of camaraderie.
Published this month by Orchard Books with a 150,000-copy first printing, the story about optimism, overcoming adversity, and forging your own path grew out of Colagiovanni’s personal experience during the pandemic. With schools shuttered, his three daughters—the eldest then 10 and eight-year-old twins—were relegated to distance learning, which he called “absolutely brutal. When the computer came on in the morning, there were lots of tears. I never before realized that children could experience those feelings so deeply and it broke my heart as a parent.”
Yet witnessing his kids’ reactions to the lockdown was “eye-opening” in a positive way, Colagiovanni said. “I’ve come to see it as almost a blessing, since I have become hyper-focused on their emotions, which was the inspiration for a story I told them in those challenging times, and that in turn inspired Go Left.”
But Where to Go Next?
A Rhode Island-based film producer and attorney, Colagiovanni has always loved to write but, he explained, “when I graduated college, I couldn’t figure out how to get started as a writer, so I went to law school and put my writing dream in the back seat.” When his first daughter was born in 2010, he decided it was time to pursue his dream and, he said, “that road led me to Peter.”
Connecting with Reynolds, Colagiovanni explained, involved “serendipity and following the most organic, beautifully crooked path.” Reynolds is a longtime resident of Dedham, Mass., where he has owned The Blue Bunny children’s bookstore for almost two decades. Dedham is also home to Colagiovanni’s aunt, who one day in 2016 approached the author at his store and asked if he would meet with her writer nephew. In keeping with his generous spirit, Reynolds agreed.
“I love meeting my readers, teachers, and writers,” he said. “The message of all my books is, ‘Be brave and share your voice with the world.’ I love giving writers tips and pointing them in the right direction.”
When he met with Reynolds, Colagiovanni shared his manuscript for The Reflection in Me, a picture book he wrote before Go Left, in which a child gains much-needed self-confidence after befriending their supportive refection in a mirror.
“Every so often, a manuscript by a new author stops me in my tracks, and that is what happened with The Reflection in Me,” Reynolds told PW. Written by Colagiovanni for his young daughters, who were beginning to wrestle with self-image issues, the story spotlights the themes of love, acceptance, and having a positive self-image. “I just melted when I read it,” Reynolds said. “It was just so authentic—I told Marc that this is a story the world needs.”
A Door Opens Wide
Recognizing the potential of an adaptation of The Reflection in Me as a short, animated film, Reynolds showed the staff at FableVision Studios, the Boston-based media firm he founded in 1996 with his twin brother, Paul. “The FableVision team loved it,” he noted, and in 2017, the firm released the short, with art by Reynolds, who also served as executive producer. “The film found its audience and was very well received,” Reynolds added. “It has been featured in film festivals worldwide and has attracted more than 1.5 million views on YouTube.”
The collaborators’ efforts also caught the attention of Liza Baker, Scholastic’s v-p and publisher of picture books, Cartwheel, Acorn, and Branches, in 2021, when she received the manuscript of Go Left from agent Holly McGhee at Pippin Properties, who represents both Reynolds and Colagiovanni.
“I was spellbound by Marc’s text the moment it crossed my desk,” she said. “It struck me as so simple in concept and yet so deeply, profoundly moving in its healing and empowering message of resilience. It was clear from the very beginning that his and Peter’s creative spirits were a match and that this was a book that Peter had to illustrate.”
Reynolds, who has worked with Baker on six of his own picture books, agreed with her observation. After he signed on as illustrator of Go Left, he recalled, “I told Marc that I would have been very jealous if anyone else had illustrated this story!”
Baker signed a two-book deal with Colagiovanni and Reynolds for Go Left and The Reflection in Me, which Orchard will publish in spring 2024. And FableVision is currently creating an animated short of Go Left, for release this fall.
Reynolds and Colagiovanni, who are now promoting Go Left on a TV satellite and road tour, both credited their genial collaborative relationship to their similar thinking.
“It has been a delight to be able to work with Marc so closely,” Reynolds said. “Early on I realized we were kindred spirits, and we both wanted to create meaningful stories that would help people—grownups as well as children—on their journeys. We also both believe that teachers are instrumental in activating a story. They take that important deep dive into a book, create projects based on it, and get conversations started.”
The illustrator added, “It’s my deep hope that Go Left will help inspire all of us all, no matter what our age, to deal with our stress and burdens in more creative ways and allow us to move forward toward our dreams and goals.”
Colagiovanni, who expressed gratitude to Reynolds for his pivotal role in helping him to break into children’s publishing, also emphasized the value of their similar priorities and compatibility.
“Peter and I have a lot in common personally and creatively,” he noted. “He is so easy to talk to, and we both believe that kids’ books should be something that children and adults can connect with. It is so important to find creative ways to initiate conversations and get kids talking in a constructive environment, with their parents and teachers, to help them find coping strategies and let go of their trauma.”
Or, in Colagiovanni-Reynolds speak, to urge children to “go left” when nothing is going right.
When Things Aren’t Going Right, Go Left by Marc Colagiovanni, illus. by Peter H. Reynolds. Orchard, $18.99 Mar. ISBN 978-1-338-83118-4
The Reflection in Me by Marc Colagiovanni, illus. by Peter H. Reynolds. Orchard, $18.99 spring 2024 ISBN 978-1-338-81048-6