The Yellow Umbrella

This was originally given as an L2 Talk at the Learning2Europe conference hosted by the American School of Warsaw.

It seems somewhat weird or maybe even selfish to grieve the loss of someone you never really knew. But the grief and the loss are both real and the knowing comes through the willingness of a maker with an umbrella to share her passion.

Maybe you know Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Maybe you have read one of her books? Or maybe you have your own “Amy” who inspires you with their magic. This is not a eulogy for Amy. In all honesty, I don’t think I can do her justice. But it is my sincere wish that in sharing her story, a part of her maker spirit will live on in us all.

When I finished reading her book “The Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life” I felt like I had spent the afternoon with a good friend. I was convinced that she and I, at some yet to be determined point in life, would collaborate on a project together. I wasn’t sure what that project would be and honestly, it didn’t even matter, I was just inspired by her perspective and her vision and I wanted to be a part of that.

This isn’t the collaboration I had imagined but with heartfelt appreciation of her generous spirit, let me share three pearls of Amy-inspired wisdom.

Find the thing you can’t not do.

Amy was a maker. Among other things she made short films, salads, wishes and books. When asked, “Why do you write?” She would respond, “Because I can’t not.”

What is the thing that you “can’t not” do? What is the thing you find yourself doing above all other things? For me, I “can’t not” create. Whether it be doodles, a re-designed resume, a collection of art provocations, a book, or the slides behind me, I am constantly inspired to create and re-create. What is your “can’t not”?

Stand Under Your Umbrella

On the 8/8/08 Amy put a message out that at 8:08pm she would be standing under the Bean in Chicago and that anyone who wanted to make something with her, was welcome to join. She would be the one with the yellow umbrella. And the association between Amy and a yellow umbrella was born. Imagine an umbrella, yellow, hanging in your schools — in a shared space, a classroom, a teacher workroom. The umbrella would remind you that in this school, in this space, we

  • Take risks
  • Are makers
  • Amplify ideas

We have ‘blue sky’ thinking, why not “yellow umbrella living”? How would a yellow umbrella move you forward in the way you ‘do’ school? What would it amplify? What new things would arise?


More is a key word I associate with Amy. It is tattooed on her arm. It is in the title of one of her books. She believed that the more you looked, the more you would find. Her biggest more? One of them was that through her work she would bring more joy and connect more people.

Like all of us, I wear many hats and have a full schedule. To think of adding more seems near impossible. But then I think, what if I take some things away in order to add more things in? Less structure, more freedom. Less talk, more listen. Less work and more play. How would doing less make room for more?

This umbrella is new. I bought it a week or so after Amy died because I wanted something to hold on to that represented a great maker. Amy taught me to make.When I am stuck, when I am not sure, when in doubt, MAKE. Make good art. Make a connection. Make a difference. To be a maker was Amy’s passion. It almost seems as if it were her destiny.

Who is your Amy? Who inspires you to make the most of your time here. What magic will evolve from the maker in you?

This book I will treasure.