|Peter Brown||Interview with Peter Brown, September 2006|
Chowder by Peter Brown
Chowder isn't like other dogs. For one thing, he likes people toys better than dog toys. He liked to read newspapers rather than fetch them, and he would rather surf the internet and look through his telescope than bury a bone. He just doesn't fit in with the neighborhood dogs, and that makes Chowder lonely. When a petting zoo opens nearby, Chowder is determined to make friends with the zoo animals. And with a strong kick and a flying leap, Chowder finally finds a place where he can be comfortable being his silly, slobbery self, and makes friends by being true to his quirks. Chowder is a hilarious and heartwarming story that introduces an endearing new character to the picture book market.
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One day, a curious boy named Liam is out exploring his drab, gray city when he comes across a struggling garden. He decides to help the plants grow, never imagining what he is starting. As time passes, the garden takes on a life of its own and spreads across the city, changing everything in its path. Bit by bit, the city is transformed, becoming a lush green world.
The Curious Garden is s magical story about one boy's quest for a greener world... one garden at a time. Enchanting tale with environmental themes and breathtaking illustrations that become more vibrant as the garden blooms.
ETC: The bulldog in your new book, Chowder, is a very interesting character. How did you come up with the idea of a dog that acts like (and is treated like) a human?
Peter Brown: We all know people who are obsessed with their dogs. They often talk to and treat their dogs as if they were babies, and most dogs understandably react to that treatment in a dog-like way. So I thought it would be funny if there was a dog, who was still clearly a pet, but who reacted to that babying with the personality of a curious, resourceful child. Once I had that idea everyday things, like waiting for his owners to return from work, became very interesting. How would Chowder spend his weekdays? How would other dogs react to his kid-like personality? What kind of toys would he play with? These kinds of questions led to the creation of Chowder.
ETC: And, what about his name? Where did Chowder come from?
Peter Brown: When I was studying at Art Center College of Design I made a good friend named Mike Carpenter who grew up in South Boston. He and his wife would have us all over for dinner and he'd cook chowder among other things. Because he pronounced it "Chowda" with his Boston accent, the word became popular in our circle of friends. So when it came time to create a name for this bulldog character, "Chowder" was one of the first words I thought of. I think "Chowder" implies chunkiness and maybe even clumsiness, but it also stands for something charming...it seemed like the perfect name for this bulldog.
ETC: Chowder is not only the main character in your book, but he has a web site with lots of cool links and he runs his own blog. That's a pretty talented dog. Where does he find time for it all?
Peter Brown: Chowder has a lot of free time. He spends most days alone at home while his owners are at work. Between eating leftovers, watching daytime television, and playing long-distance charades from the balcony with his petting zoo pals, he finds plenty of time to write about the day-to-day events of his life. And my lack of a social life certainly doesn't hurt.
ETC: One of the links on Chowder's site is for Bernie's Telescope at nasa.org, and a telescope is one of Chowder's favorite toys. Any special significance?
Peter Brown: My father works for NASA designing and building cameras that go on satellites and up into space. Astronomy and telescopes have been a part of my life since I was young enough to say "globular cluster." Plus, since Chowder is very curious, and confined to his apartment most of the time, it seemed like a fun way for him to see what's going on in the world around him.
ETC: I read on your Web site about your future pet bulldog Fill. If and when you do get him, will you treat him like the Wubbingtons treat Chowder? I will most likely be the most annoying dog owner ever. Whenever I see a bulldog I start talking in a silly voice, scratching it all over and playing with its wrinkles. Dogs are so much fun that I can't imagine not being obsessed with my future bulldog. It will be a very spoiled dog. So I guess that means that I will be very much like the Wubbingtons!
ETC: Your artwork is terrific - very unique. When you're writing a book, do you come up with the illustrations first, or write story first?
Peter Brown: Making picture books is the perfect job for me. I love drawing and painting and writing. And for me the most satisfying part of making picture books is finding the perfect balance of storytelling with words and storytelling with art. When I have an idea I'll usually write, write, write and get most of it down in word form. Then I'll start visualizing those ideas with sketches. When I begin working on the final text of the story I have written ideas and detailed sketches to refer to and I'll decide what parts of the story are most effectively told with words or with pictures. It's a very organic process. The finished result is a book that engages the reader, that requires them to really look at the art in order to understand the story, and that occasionally requires them to connect the dots. I ask a lot of the reader, but I think that's a good thing.
The last page of Chowder is a good example of this. We see his petting zoo pals looking back at him with their own telescopes and binoculars. The reader needs to remember an earlier illustration to understand that this last page is from Chowder's point-of-view looking through his telescope. So although we don't actually see him in that closing page, Chowder is very much a part of the scene.
ETC: Do you have another picture book in the works?
Peter Brown: The Fabulous Bouncing Chowder will be in stores in Fall '07! And I'm very excited about some new picture book ideas I'm developing that will be interesting departures from the wacky, comical books I've made so far.