Getting straight answers

Getting straight answers

What better way to find out how it feels to be a professional writer and illustrator than to have dinner with him - which is just what our young reporters did


Junior reporters and students share a fun dinner with illustrator Peter Brown (front left) in Hong Kong.
Junior reporters and students share a fun dinner with illustrator Peter Brown (front left) in Hong Kong.
Photo: Chris Lau/SCMP
As a teenager, you don't get a lot of chances to ask questions.

You may enjoy playing basketball or ballet dancing, but your questions are most likely limited to how to stand firm on your tippy toes or how to aim your shots better.

And while this may help you improve your skills, it will never reveal what being a professional ballerina or basketball player feels like.

The folks at Young Readers' Festival understand the need to ask questions. They know that teaching students how to write and illustrate is important. But it's more important to give them a taste of what being a professional writer or illustrator is like.

Last month, the Festival arranged for a group of Hong Kong secondary students to share dinner with New York-based writer and illustrator Peter Brown. And five Young Post junior reporters joined them.

On that night, the conversation jumped from food to school, school to Brown's childhood.

Before the appetiser had even appeared, the social awkwardness had melted into laughter. And Brown, an adult from another country, seemed to blend in pretty well. "He was funny and interesting," junior reporter Minal Daswani says. "I enjoyed talking to him and hearing all his stories."

Born and raised in New Jersey, in the United States, Brown loved drawing from an early age. "I've been drawing my entire life, and I've always been interested in telling stories with my pictures," he says.

But it was not until he reached high school that he started to think about making his living as an illustrator. He earned a place at the Art Centre College of Design in California, and studied art and creative writing. Brown has always had a love of animals, and growing up spent a lot of time drawing in farms and zoos. Animals feature in all six of the books he has so far published.

"If I hadn't been accepted into an art college, I planned to study biology and either some form of botany or zoology," he says.

The budding artist was fortunate to score a deal for his first book, Flight of the Dodo, very quickly. He has not looked back since.

Brown loves to learn new things, add in his own thoughts and turn them into heartwarming caricatures.

His good sense of humour is reflected in his drawings, but he also loves to tell funny stories in person. Both the students and the junior reporters found him a great dinner companion. After a night of laughter and good food, everyone left the restaurant feeling they had learned something useful from the illustrator.

One thing Brown emphasised was the need to persevere in achieving your goals. "I learned that you don't have to go along the same path as everyone else," junior reporter Samantha Lau says. "If there isn't a job out there tailored to your exact needs, make one."

"He told us that if we had a dream, we had to pursue it without hesitation," Sonia Tsui recalls.

Although he's an adult with a job, Brown says there was a learning curve for all. "Since this was my first time anywhere in Asia, I think I was most interested in hearing the teenagers describe their interests and everyday routines," he says.

The artist says he loved meeting the students and reporters, and he is very surprised to see such a similarity between students in Hong Kong and those he used to go to school with in the US. "The biggest difference was that the Hong Kong kids are more worldly and well-travelled," he says.



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