Voices of Anthony Browne
An Interview with Anthony Browne
by Tana Elias
Anthony Browne is an internationally-recognized author and illustrator of children's books, with over thirty titles to his name. He attended Leeds Art College, where he graduated with a graphic arts degree in 1967. Before focusing full-time on children's books, he worked as a medical illustrator for three years and illustrated greeting cards for Gordon Fraser in the UK for fifteen years. His books have received many distinctions, including the British Library Association's Kate Greenaway Medal in 1983 for Gorilla and in 1992 for Zoo. Most recently, he traveled to Colombia to accept the International Board on Books for Young People's Hans Christian Andersen Award for Illustration for the body of his work. He lives in Kent, England with his wife and two children.
Mr. Browne delivered a lecture called "Let the Pictures Tell the Story" in Madison on Tuesday, November 14, 2000.
TE: You spent several years as a medical illustrator and many more as a greeting card illustrator. How did those years prepare you to create children's books?
AB: The years spent as a medical illustrator taught me far more about drawing and painting than four years at Art College. It also taught me how to tell stories in pictures. I had to tell very difficult stories, the stories of operations, in paintings that looked realistic, but in fact weren't real. As a greeting card designer I was able to experiment with different styles and techniques in a way that I seemed unable to do at college. In fact, the constrictions of the job actually freed me up.
TE: You've said that "in some ways children have a surrealist view of the world" in that they see things from fresh perspectives. How do you feel about views that your books and the surrealism in them might be too complex for children? Have children commented to you about these aspects in your work?
AB: When I hear someone say that my books are too complex for children I know that I'm hearing someone who either knows nothing about children, or someone that doesn't value children or give them credit for their abilities to understand complex ideas. Children have never commented about these matters to me, only adults.
TE: How did you find your work perceived in Colombia? (It seems to me that they'd really embrace it, with their literary tradition of magical realism which is similar to surrealism in art.)
AB: The response to my work in Colombia, and the rest of Latin America, was phenomenal - I've never experienced anything like it. I'm not sure why, maybe there's a connection with magic realism, or maybe it's my sympathy with the underprivileged. I was constantly told how children, particularly children who are deprived in some way, love my books.
TE: You've been quoted as saying that Gorilla changed your life - how so?
AB: I think the success of Gorilla probably changed my life in some ways. Not at first, perhaps, but the book won some prizes, which gave me confidence, and over a period of time the book has sold very well. More than that, though, something about the book really worked - it seems like a watershed for me, and I think I learned a lot about making picture books from it.
TE: Do you find it more difficult or challenging to illustrate the works of other authors?
AB: I usually find it more difficult to illustrate other people's stories but not necessarily more challenging.
TE: How long does it generally take you to complete a picture book? Do you work on them linearly, starting at the beginning and working through to the end?
AB: I now take about a year on each book, working in chronological order, but am always ready to change an earlier picture as the book develops.
TE: Do you use people as models for your characters? Is Willy based on anyone in particular?
AB: I use often use real children as models. Willy is, to some extent, modeled on my own childhood in that I have a brother who's nearly two years older than me. I was constantly trying to be as good as him at soccer, or rugby, or cricket, or tennis, or fighting, or climbing trees, or drawing. It seemed I never would be. Willy is a chimpanzee living in a world of gorillas who are all stronger, more powerful and important than him. I think a lot of children identify with him because their lives are dominated by older siblings, parents, teachers, policemen and politicians. It seems quite a few adults feel this way too.
TE: Can you give us a sneak preview of Willy's Pictures (to be published in the U.S. in November 2000) or My Dad (to be published in the U.S. in March 2001)?
AB: Willy's Pictures is a collection of paintings Willy has done, all based on famous works of art. He knows that all pictures tell a story and encourages children to make up their own. My Dad is my first positive book about a father and it became possible when I found my Dad's old dressing gown and a letter that I'd written to him when I was about five years old. It all came flooding back....
More information about Anthony Browne
Bradford, Clare. "Playing with Father: Anthony Browne's Picture Books and the Masculine." Children's Literature in Education (June 1998), p. 79-96.
“Browne, Anthony.” Sixth Book of Junior Authors and Illustrators. Edited by Sally Holmes Holtze. H.W. Wilson, 1989. P. 44-45.
“Browne, Anthony.” Something About the Author, volume 61. Gale, 1990. P. 19-26.
“Browne, Anthony.” Something About the Author, volume 105. Gale, 1999. P. 19-28.
Doonan, Jane. "Drawing Out Ideas: A Second Decade of the Work of Anthony Browne." The Lion and the Unicorn (January 1999), p. 30-56.
“Interview with Anthony Browne” and review of My Dad. Adhoc.
http://www.adhoc.co.uk/cambridge/kids/books/reviews/?article=1161. Accessed September 13, 2000.
Marantz, Sylvia and Kenneth. “An Interview with Anthony Browne.” Horn Book Magazine (November/December 1985), p. 696-704.
Smith, Amanda. “Anthony Browne’s Monkey Tricks.” Publisher’s Weekly (September 26, 1986), p. 32-33.
“Special Guest #2: Anthony Browne.” Achuka – Children’s Books UK.
http://www.achuka.co.uk/absg.htm. Accessed June 1, 1999.
Books by Anthony Browne
(all dates/publishers listed are first American editions)
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Written by Lewis Carroll. Knopf, 1988.
Anthony Browne’s King Kong. From the story conceived by Edgar Wallace and Merian Cooper. Turner, 1994.
Bear Goes to Town. Doubleday, 1989.
Bear Hunt. Doubleday, 1990.
The Big Baby: A Little Joke. Knopf, 1994.
Changes. Knopf, 1990.
The Daydreamer. Written by Ian McEwan. HarperCollins, 1994.
Gorilla. Knopf, 1984.
Hansel and Gretel. Written by the Brothers Grimm. Franklin Watts, 1983.
I Like Books. Knopf, 1988.
Kirsty Knows Best. Written by Annalena McAfee. Knopf, 1987.
Knock, Knock! Who’s There? Written by Sally Grindley. Knopf, 1985.
The Little Bear Book. Doubleday, 1989.
Look What I’ve Got. Julia MacRae Books, 1980.
My Dad. DK, March 2001.
The Night Shimmy. Written by Gwen Strauss. Knopf, 1992.
Piggybook. Knopf, 1986.
Things I Like. Knopf, 1989.
Through the Magic Mirror. Greenwillow, 1977.
The Topiary Garden. Written by Janni Howker. Orchard, 1995.
Trail of Stones. Written by Gwen Strauss. Knopf, 1990.
The Tunnel. Knopf, 1989.
The Visitors Who Came to Stay. Written by Annalena McAfee. Viking Kestrel, 1985.
Voices in the Park. DK, 1998.
Willy and Hugh. Knopf, 1992.
Willy the Champ. Knopf, 1985.
Willy the Dreamer. Candlewick, 1998.
Willy the Wimp. Knopf, 1984.
Willy the Wizard. Knopf, 1995.
Willy’s Pictures. Candlewick, November 2000.
Zoo. Knopf, 1992.
Reprinted from Friends of the CCBC Newsletter 2000, Number 4 with permission of Tana Elias and the Friends of the CCBC, Inc. ©2000 Friends of the CCBC, Inc.