Page last updated at 07:34 GMT, Wednesday, 10 June 2009 08:34 UK

Talking Shop: Anthony Browne

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Can you tell what it is? Anthony Browne draws a picture

Children's writer and illustrator Anthony Browne has been made the sixth Children's Laureate, and said he will use the role to promote picture books.

The 62-year-old is known for his surrealist style of drawing, particularly of gorillas, and has been published almost 40 titles.

His work includes Zoo, Gorilla, and the Willy series of adventures.

As he succeeds Michael Rosen as the champion of children's literature, he tells the BBC News website about his passion for picture books and primates.


How does it feel to be chosen as Children's Laureate?

It feels absolutely fantastic. I'm really thrilled, but also a slightly anxious because the other Laureates have been so brilliant, so articulate, so hard-working.

But I'm determined I'm going to enjoy it, I'm going to encourage people to read picture books and value picture books, but I also want to work on my own picture books at the same time. I don't want to stop being a picture book writer and Illustrator just to be the Laureate.

Do picture books need promoting?

Picture books are being marginalised. I get the feeling children are being pushed away from picture books earlier and earlier and being told to look at 'proper' books, which means books without pictures.

What was your favourite book as a child?

I didn't have picture books - there weren't many around when I was a child. I suppose Alice in Wonderland is the story I remember more than any other, although I found it terrifying. That's a good thing about a book. You can open and close it, so if there is a sequence of writing or a picture that is a bit scary then you are in control. You can turn the page whenever you want.

Ricky watches Anthony at work

Anthony Browne's top tips

Who are your favourite children's writers?

In terms of picture books, Maurice Sendak the American writer and illustrator of Where the Wild Things Are, is probably the daddy of them all. I think a lot of us have been influenced and learned a lot about how picture book works by looking at his work.

Your most famous books are the Willy series of adventures about a chimpanzee called Willy. Is it true you based the character of Willy on yourself?

I did to a certain extent, but not in a conscious way. Stories come to me and I don't know where they come from, but afterwards I can look back and say, 'Oh yes, that's got a little bit of me, or a little bit of my own son in it'. That's where ideas come from.

I used to deny it, but I suppose there is an element of the Willy character in me. I grew up with an older brother who was always stronger and faster and better than me at everything, but I was close enough in age to try and compete so we had a competitive childhood.

But I sort of got used to the fact that I wasn't as good as him and I think Willy is a bit like that. He is a chimpanzee who lives in a world of gorillas and although he is trying to be as good as they are, it isn't something that upsets him.

What is it about gorillas and chimpanzees that fascinates you?

They are so much like us. Although I have mixed feelings about zoos, I do occasionally got to a zoo near me that has a great collection of gorillas. To stand and look into a gorilla's eyes is so much like looking into a human being's eyes.

Zoo.  Anthony Browne
Zoo was published in 1992

It sometimes feels like there is a human being inside the gorilla looking back at me. You can sense the intelligence and the emotion, they just feel so much like us.

Also they are are great to draw in the way that old people's faces are more interesting to draw than young people because of the lines and wrinkles of experience. Gorillas are like old people but even more so.

And finally because they remind me of my dad. He was a big man, he died suddenly and horribly in front of me when I was 17 which was a traumatic experience. He was a physical man. He had been a soldier fighting in the war, had to do some appalling things.

He was a professional boxer, he played rugby and cricket and football. He encouraged my brother and I to do all of those physical things, but he would also sit down and draw pictures and write poems with us, so there was that fantastic contrast.

I think gorillas to a certain extent are like that they are very big and powerful and look very fierce, but in actual fact in the wild they are gentle and sensitive creatures.

Are you inspired by the children you write for?

I am very inspired by children. I go into schools a lot and it reminds me why I am so pleased to do children's books. Children are so open, so visual, so interested, so passionate, so I get that from them.

I don't tend to generally get ideas from them, but there are a couple of books that have been based on ideas that children have given me. I made a book called My Dad, then another called My Mum, and I went to a school and the children had produced a version of My Brother, which I hadn't actually done myself.

And it was such a lovely idea and such a lovely ending that I asked them if it would be okay to use their ending and I made a book of My Brother.

Anthony Browne talked to BBC News arts and culture reporter Caroline Briggs.



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