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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.
When She Woke by Hillary Jordan is definitely a Books Inc. favorite! ON SALE NOW!
For the first time ever, Books Inc has selected a single title to promote as a company. When She Woke was selected as our very first BOOKS INC READS novel for its engaging content, compelling characters and contemporary content that is perfectly suited for discussion.!
As the teen voice from Books Inc, NYMBC also highly recommends When She Woke. Read NYMBC’s review below.
Set in the not at all distant future, this dystopian retelling of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter provides a much breezier read than its predecessor. Set in a United States run by an aggressively conservative religious right, When She Woke is the story of a young woman dyed red (“chromed”) as punishment for having an abortion. Jordan’s clipped, distinctively contemporary tone creates a totally plausible landscape of characters whose disparate opinions on chroming elegantly reflect current viewpoints on polarizing topics like abortion and the death penalty.
Though it’s not marketed for teens, NOT YOUR MOTHER’S BOOK CLUB would like to endorse When She Woke as a book for high schoolers. For one, it’d make a great (and perhaps a bit more enjoyable) companion to The Scarlet Letter, which is typically assigned to sophomores; but we also recommend it because the issues that are ruminated upon in this book are ones that teens are confronted with on a daily basis, if not in their personal lives, then certainly in their lives as American citizens on the cusp of voting age. Though few of us like to think of ourselves as single-issue voters, issues like abortion and gay marriage are so divisive that it can often be hard to consider the other side. One of the elements that make When She Woke so compelling is that the issue of abortion is considered, fully, from both sides. It is a careful and honest contemplation like this that creates a safe place for discussion of dangerous topics, and its books like When She Woke that allow for this kind of invaluable discussion.
With our highest recommendations, for advanced teens.
Below is a brief description and some questions (for discussion or just to think about) for when you’ve read it.
Hannah Payne’s life has been devoted to church and family,
but after her arrest, she awakens to a nightmare: she is lying on a table in a
bare room, covered only by a paper gown, with cameras broadcasting her every
move to millions at home, for whom observing new Chromes—criminals whose skin
color has been genetically altered to match the class of their crime—is a new
and sinister form of entertainment. Hannah is a Red; her crime is murder. The
victim, according to the State of Texas,
was her unborn child, and Hannah is determined to protect the identity of the
father, a public figure with whom she’s shared a fierce and forbidden love.
When She Woke is a fable about a stigmatized woman struggling to navigate an America of a not-too-distant future—where the line between church and state has been eradicated and convicted felons are no longer imprisoned and rehabilitated but chromed and released back into the population to survive as best they can. In seeking a path to safety in an alien and hostile world, Hannah unknowingly embarks on a path of self-discovery that forces her to question the values she once held true and the righteousness of a country that politicizes faith.
“Hillary Jordan channels Nathaniel Hawthorne by way of Margaret Atwood in this fast-paced, dystopian thriller. Unputdownable.” —Valerie Martin, author of The Confessions of Edward Day
1.) Are there any punishments in our current society as stigmatizing as Chroming?
2.) Why, in this not-so-distant future, did Jordan decide to create a punishment that made people so visible? Not only from being chromed, but also in the Chrome Wards, where they are videotaped, and once they’re in the real world their location is always tracked and available to public record. How does the theme of sight and surveillance develop throughout the novel?
3.) How is chroming an effective method of social engineering? Why does it seem destined for failure by the end of the story?
4.) What about our current socio-political climate makes The Scarlet Letter an apt choice for a contemporary retelling?
5.) Despite his self-flagellation, Aidan remains silent about his own involvement in Hannah’s choices until the very end of the novel. Do you agree with his and Hannah’s evaluation of the situation, i.e., that it’s more important for people to have faith than it is for one man to admit his guilt? How is he part and party to the structure that created Hannah’s problem? How is he innocent?