Peter Pinkletink hopped out of Aquinnah this winter. The irrepressibly charming Peter, whose stories are being told in a series of online books for children, was created by Eileen Sullivan. For those skeptics still asking, Is there anything to do on the Vineyard in the winter? How’s this for an answer: Write a story, learn to draw, learn to animate, and create a splendiferous world for children to visit, and then create a clothing line to accompany it.
Tucked away down a long dirt road in an eclectically decorated 1970s upside-down house, with the bedrooms on the first floor and living space on the second, Eileen Sullivan spent her first Vineyard winter working at her 10-foot-long kitchen farm table, illustrating and animating the stories about Peter Pinkletink that she had long told her children.
I met up with Sullivan recently at Rosewater Market in Edgartown. Like the character Miss Eileen from one of her stories, Sullivan has “ginger ringlets of curly-wurly hair.” She arrived with a sketchbook and a sampling of the children’s dresses that she designed. Her pants were covered with marker drawings that her children did, and she spoke with a British accent.
“I never really knew how to draw,” Sullivan said. “My friends were like, just sit there and do it, so I literally just starting drawing frogs. I had the dream of them moving as well, with dancing and music, and with today’s technology I was able to go online and research how to animate, how to find music, how to upload it, and bring these stories to life.”
I sipped my coffee in stunned disbelief and muttered something along the lines of, “Wow, that’s amazing.”
Sullivan grew up in London in a house filled with storytellers. She moved to the United States in 1982, and worked for more than two decades as an executive at Ralph Lauren, helping the company launch a number of lines, including its children’s division. After leaving Ralph Lauren in 2008, she started consulting, mostly online, for the fashion industry. Last year, when her youngest daughter, Annabella, asked if she could spend her senior year of high school on the Vineyard, they packed up and relocated to the Island. (Annabella will graduate from the Charter School in June. Sullivan’s daughter Sunny is an artist living in San Francisco, and her eldest, Zachary, is a photographer and musician living in Brooklyn.)
Sullivan says she first heard the pinkletinks 25 years ago, while relaxing with her infant son on the deck of a Lambert’s Cove rental. “Hearing them was amazing,” she recalled. They inspired a host of bedtime stories that all three of her children would grow up with. This winter Sullivan decided to turn the Peter Pinkletink stories into multimedia experiences, which she has dedicated “to all the beautiful children on Martha’s Vineyard and around the world.”
Book one is titled “Peter Pinkletink Namasté.” The story takes place in Aquinnah, and introduces readers to Little Hazel Nash — a.k.a. Pickles — Miss Eileen, Lady the dog, who is “a bit of a drooler,” and Peter Pinkletink. Book two, “Time to Sing,” is Peter’s story. Poor Peter can’t sleep. He’s far too excited to sing in the spring, but it’s still too cold. He must wait. How hard it is. The story begins with Peter ruminating on the state of his tongue, as pinkletinks are prone to do. “Peter Pinkletink is wide awake with his tongue stuck to the ceiling. A moment before, he’d been flicking it as far as it would go, in and out, out and in. ‘I wonder if my tongue has grown?’ Peter thinks.”
Ms. Sullivan’s witty, lyrical, and interactive text — definitions to vocabulary words appear when you click on them — is infused with colorful punctuation and emojis, and delightful as these added visual touches may be, the illustrations and animations that accompany the story steal the show.
It’s not surprising, given her work in fashion, that Peter Pinkletink and his friends have standout wardrobes. Peter mostly wears a blue-and-white striped shirt with either blue-and-white striped shorts or patchwork pants, rainbow socks — sometimes inside out — and flip-flops. One of his singing pinkletink pals named Johnny is dressed in black, just like that other singer named Johnny.
“I want the stories to be fun and educational, something children want to come back to and parents enjoy telling,” Sullivan explained. “I believe in teaching children about gardens and the importance of healthy food, and why not start with a really cute little hipster frog in the back of a garden?”
Environmentally minded, Sullivan decided to save paper and distribute her stories online. “The whole concept of ebooks really appealed to me, because there was no paper involved,” she said. “But also you could click words that explain things to you. So if you didn’t know what the word habitat meant, you can click it and it will tell you what habitat means.”
The text in the stories on her website are accompanied by short animations; she has also created YouTube films of the stories. And if this isn’t enough work for one winter, she has started designing a children’s clothing line that is based on the clothes found in the stories.
“I was able to bring my vision to life with the support of so many friends on the Island,” Sullivan said. So for those folks still wondering what people do during a Vineyard winter, the answer is ask Eileen Sullivan.
Peter PInkletink’s stories are at pinkletinksmv.com and on YouTube.