Peter Brown would make the best dinner party guest. He’s witty with even a minimum of words, has charming stories from his childhood (The first line of his entertaining bio reads: “I was born and raised in Hopewell, New Jersey, which is a great place to live especially if you like mosquitoes and poison ivy.” Ha!), and would be the absolute best teammate for a post-dinner game of Pictionary. These same qualities make him a pretty wonderful children’s book author and illustrator, too. When he describes his process — “I say as much as possible with my paintings, and whatever I can’t say with the art I say with words. My stories don’t have many words, but it takes me a long time to think up the words that I use.” – it makes me want to choose my words more thoughtfully. I’ll start with Peter Brown’s ever so thoughtful ones! Please enjoy them.
Q: What’s the one childhood memory that still seems as clear as the day it happened?
A: I’ll be honest. I don’t have a good memory. But my childhood memory that stands out most has to be during one of my family’s summer trips to a little island off the coast of Maine. I was returning to the house from a morning spent picking wild blueberries. I used my shirt as a basket to carry the berries when a deer walked out of the woods (the deep, dark, scary woods) and right up to me. The deer just stood there looking at me, a few feet away, so I grabbed a handful of berries and reached out. The deer licked the berries right out of my hand, and then walked back into the woods. I was about five years old.
Q: What qualities do you think contribute the most to your success in children’s book publishing?
A: I think my ideas for stories are unusual enough to be interesting, but familiar enough to be relatable. I’ve had good luck creating characters that people seem to really enjoy. My pictures don’t make sense without my words. And my words are useless without my pictures. This makes for an engaging reading experience.
Q: Describe your studio or where you usually create your best work. What’s your view?
A: My studio is a rectangular room, about 20 feet by 10 feet. I have one very long table along one wall, half of it is for my computer equipment, and the other half is for drawing and painting. One of the walls is completely covered by the sketches I’ve made for the picture book I’m currently working on, and the other walls have little drawings and doodles here and there, along with copies of work from some of my favorite artists. There’s a big bookshelf at one end of my studio, filled exclusively with books for young readers. I’m easily distracted, so I don’t mind that my windows look out at the brick walls of the neighboring building.
Q: How do you begin writing or illustrating a story? Do you ever have writer’s block? What snaps you out of it?
A: I keep a little notepad with me at all times, just in case I have an idea for a new story or character or illustration. As I finish up one book I begin looking over my collection of ideas, and there’s usually a few ideas that I’m very excited about. I’ll explore each idea a bit, writing and drawing using story webs, and eventually one of those ideas will decide that it has to be developed into an actual book. I don’t really get writer’s block. If I get stuck with the words I’ll start drawing. If I get stuck with the drawings I’ll go back to writing.
Q: What was the first book that moved you?
A: The Rainbow Goblins, by Ul de Rico
Q: Your favorite person in the world…
A: …is Neil DeGrasse Tyson, because he’s trying to make science a part of popular culture.
Q: What character have you created that would tell us the most about you?
Q: When did you realize that you are great at what you do? And when did the rest of the world realize it, too?
A: I first realized that I had some ability with words and pictures when I was in high school, and people liked the cartoon characters that I was always drawing, and I was accepted into an amazing art college, Art Center College of Design. And I suppose the rest of the world first realized that I wasn’t bad with words and pictures with my fourth picture book, The Curious Garden. That was my first bestselling book.
Q: Tell us what’s next and new!
A: In late August 2012 I’ll begin my book tour for my newest book, CREEPY CARROTS! It was written by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by me (duh) and published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. It’s a wacky, spooky story about a rabbit named Jasper, who is being stalked by his favorite snack. Creepy, I know. I even made a creepy video about the book which you can see here.
Thank you, Peter! I can’t wait to read your newest book to the littlest Blair kids; it sounds like the perfect Halloween treat! (Did I just mention Halloween?!)