Peter Brown Makes One Really Good Book
About How Children Make Terrible Pets*

h1 November 8th, 2010 by jules

(An earlier, experimental spread from Peter Brown’s Children Make Terrible Pets)

* {Ouch. I know. These are the kinds of unforgivably uncreative post titles you get before I’ve had the sweet brown life blood that is my coffee and when you get as little sleep as I got last night.}

Please allow me, dear readers, to be fixated just one more day on the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2010 list, announced last week. Yesterday, I featured some spreads from Suzy Lee’s Shadow, and today Peter Brown is back to talk a bit more about his 2010 title, which also made the NYT list, Children Make Terrible Pets (Little, Brown, September 2010). You may remember Peter discussing it (and sharing early spreads and sketches from it) in my April interview with him.

This book is very funny, a twist on the ‘ol “Mom, can I puh-leeeez keep this animal I found on the road?” plea. With his tongue placed firmly in his cheek, Peter tells the story of Lucy, a young brown bear, who finds a stinkin’ cute little boy in the forest one day. She carries him home and begs to keep him. “Children make terrible pets,” says Lucy’s mother, though Lucy is stubborn and tries hard to show her mother is wrong. Naming the boy Squeaker, Lucy takes responsibility for him, and they live their trial life together. Alas, Squeaker is too hard to potty train, not to mention entirely too rough on the furniture, to name just a couple of his faults. And I won’t give away the ending, except to say that Lucy finally understands that perhaps her mother was right.

There are all kinds of techniques Peter uses—and all kinds of smart picture-book making he is up to—that make this book work, but I’m not even going to tell you what they are, because Peter says a few words below and actually touches upon why he did what he did in the book. I thank him for stopping by. And for making one of the funniest books of 2010. (For another instance of The Funny in 2010, you saw this post last week, right?)

* * * * * * *

Peter: When I was a kid, I would bring home frogs and turtles from the woods and ask my mom if I could keep them as pets. My mom would always say, “Wild animals make terrible pets!” And then I’d say, “But look how cute he is!” (Note: I had no way of knowing the animal’s gender. I just assumed they were males for some reason.) And then my mom would say, “Don’t you think he has a family somewhere who’s missing him right now?” And I’d realize she was right and begrudgingly return the animal to where I found it.

We’re used to seeing kids as the protagonists and animals as mysterious creatures making mysterious sounds, and when I recalled those childhood experiences, I thought it would Tons O’ Fun to reverse those roles. So I began working on the book that would become Children Make Terrible Pets.

(An earlier, experimental illustration from when Peter was
working on the book’s design)

When bears growl, I imagine they’re trying to say SOMETHING, but we don’t understand because we don’t speak Bear. Duh. And bears don’t speak English (or any other human language, FYI) so I began thinking of what people must sound like to bears. I decided that whenever the boy in my story spoke, Lucy the Bear would only hear a “Squeak.” That made me giggle uncontrollably, so I knew I was on to something. And since many of our childhood pets are named after their physical characteristics (Like “Fluffy” for a fluffy cat or “Spot” for a dog with spots), it made perfect sense that Lucy would name her pet boy “Squeaker,” because he made funny sounds. It was absurd and logical and everything was coming together nicely.

I wanted Lucy to be Bear for a few reasons; namely, I wanted her to be bigger than Squeaker so he’d feel even more like a pet, and I wanted to make a scary animal seem friendly. But I didn’t want kids to worry about being kidnapped by bears, so I went out of my way to make this book feel warm and friendly. I made the characters cartoony (originally they were more realistic, but it gave me nightmares, so I changed the design), I used a warm palette, and I used lots of familiar textures like construction paper and wood grain. Then, I digitally collaged together my drawings, the cut paper, and the wood grain backgrounds, and added some color. I think everything combined pretty nicely to make this a silly, fun, non-threatening story.

If you look below, you can get a feel for my process of experimenting, designing, and building the final art.

* * * * * * *

All artwork and sketches used with permission of Peter Brown.

CHILDREN MAKE TERRIBLE PETS. Copyright © 2010 by Peter Brown. Published by Little, Brown, New York, NY.

10 comments to “Peter Brown Makes One Really Good Book
About How Children Make Terrible Pets*”

  1. Brilliant.
    I want this book!!!!

  2. That progression of layers is sosososo cool to see! I’ll keep an eye out for this one!

  3. What a cool way to show the layered process of building the final art! I love CHILDREN MAKE TERRIBLE PETS.

    I just emailed, but seeing the disclaimer on blog email getting backed up (I feel ya!), I thought I’d also comment here that on my own blog, I’m celebrating the first-ever Illustration Week by interviewing a bunch of young, up-and-coming illustrators. As an illustrator interviewer-extraordinaire, I thought you’d want to know! Hope you check it out! 🙂

  4. Love this book! So clever and funny. Thanks for sharing about the illo process. I always enjoy that!

  5. Thanks for showing the progression of the art. Just so interesting for my second graders who are trying to learn how to slow down and really read illustrations.

  6. I noticed that construction paper right away, and I love it very intensely. Not only is it construction paper, but the colors are like construction paper that’s been laying out and got a little faded… like all the construction paper at my house!

  7. That is super cool.

  8. Too cute and gorgeous!

  9. This books looks beautiful – thank you for the post. I love his color choices.

  10. Woweee, so fun, funny and beautiful!

Leave a Comment

Should you have trouble posting, please contact Thanks.