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Upcoming Oh My Gosh, Stories! Guest Peter Brown tackles our most divisive, controversial and topical interview yet... You can meet Peter Saturday, October 8th at Books Inc. Chestnut Street to celebrate the release of his newest picture book, YOU WILL BE MY FRIEND!
1.) It is often said that all books are in some way a self-portrait of the writer. Is it safe to assume that you most closely identify with a pink-tutu-clad bear named Lucy?
Well, I’ve never worn a tutu, but I do sometimes think there is a dancer within me, struggling to break free. However, I'd say I identify more with Lucy's personality than anything else. She's a very emotional cub, she overreacts, she's melodramatic, and she says whatever she's thinking, often times without considering the effect her words will have on others. I think most adults admire the way children (and bear cubs) just say whatever it is that crosses their minds. Many of us wish we could get away with being a bit freer with our words. But over the years, most of us learn to think (and sometimes overthink) before we speak.
2.) What was the least successful tact you ever took in trying to make a friend?
During the summer between 7th and 8th grade a boy, we’ll call him Gary, moved to my town. I was the first kid he met, and we ended up hanging out quite a bit.
The thing is, I could tell Gary was very "cool." He said cool things, he had a cool haircut, and he even had a cool way of walking. It was clear that once school started in September, he would become one of the popular kids. But since it was still summer break, and Gary hadn't met anyone else from school, he just assumed that I was one of the popular kids, and I wasn't about to tell him otherwise. Don't get me wrong, I had a healthy social life, and was friends with plenty of the cool kids, but I certainly wasn't part of their clique. So I spent the summer with Gary, pretending to be cool.
Finally, the school year started, and Gary soon realized that I wasn't who he thought I was...I wasn't one of the popular kids. Our friendship didn't last very long. But over the following years, I slowly learned that Gary was actually incredibly boring, which isn't cool at all. So I guess he wasn't who I thought he was, either. In the end, I was happy my friendship with Gary didn’t work out. I went on to make plenty of great, weird, interesting friends…and those are the coolest kinds of friends.
3.) For you, what is the best part about having friends?
I think the best part of having friends is what I learn from them. Some of my friends are experts at interesting things, like filmmaking or cooking, and so they might teach me about influential French film directors, or where to buy the freshest fruits and vegetables. Other friends grew up in interesting countries, like Norway and Ecuador, and so I get to hear what it's like to live in exotic places. And some of my friends are really good at being themselves, they have fun wherever they are, and they teach me how to enjoy life even more than I already do. All of my friends have something valuable teach me, and hopefully, I have something to teach them as well.
4.) Your Lucy books, Children Make Terrible Pets and YOU WILL BE MY FRIEND! both utilize layout that’s if not inspired by, at least reminiscent of comic books. Did you read a lot of comics as a kid/do you read comics now?
Comics and graphic novels are such a dominant force in popular culture that it'd be impossible NOT to be influenced by them in some way. I've always respected comic book artists, but as a kid I associated comics with muscle-bound superheroes. Those characters never captured my interest and so I didn’t begin exploring the universe of comics until I was in university.
These days, graphic novels are everywhere, on every subject, and many of them are absolutely brilliant, so I read them more now then ever before. I’m always looking for different ways to tell visual stories, and I regularly refer to legendary comic artists like Windsor McKay and Tove Jansson, and new stars like Sara Varon and David Mazzucchelli.
5.) Where is this forest where there are ostriches and elephants and kids and bears and giraffes and frogs and monkeys and bunnies and birds and skunks and kangaroos and beavers and can you please give us travel directions there? And also, is it safe to bring a picnic?
Ha! Well, I've actually wrestled quite a bit with the rules of Lucy’s world. At one point, the Lucy stories were going to take place in a very realistic world. In that version, Lucy still wouldn't have understood humans, but she also wouldn't have worn a tutu or had furniture or had any other fun human things. It would almost be like a true story of a bear who’d found a boy in the woods. That more realistic version really appealed to me in some ways, but it began presenting problems like: Why isn't the boy terrified of being abducted by bears? Where are his parents? Why is Squeaker a pet instead of a lunch? Those issues were distractions from the real story I wanted to tell.
So I decided to place the story in a fun, safe, silly world where a bear could wear a tutu, and have furniture, and understand what a "pet" is. One thing led to another, and before long almost anything was possible in Lucy's world. This allowed me to really develop Lucy's true personality, and these books are all about Lucy’s personality.
6.) If you were an animal, you would be a...
I would be a bird, because I can't even imagine how amazing it would be to fly any time I want, with a simple flap of my wings. But I'd always be worried that some bobcat or eagle would attack me and ruin an otherwise wondrous existence. So I guess I'd want to be a big predatory bird, so I wouldn't have any natural enemies. In that case I'd have to hunt to survive, and I'm not a fan of hunting, but if that's what it takes to be a happy bird, so be it.