Peter Brown Cover Reveal & Interview: Fred Gets Dressed
That’s right, folks. I got the goods. The new-Peter-Brown-picture-book goods. You’ve been thinking to yourselves, “Gee. I like Peter Brown’s picture books an awful lot. I wonder when he’ll make another one.” To you, I address today’s interview and cover reveal.
But what is Fred Gets Dressed? A description is in order!
The boy loves to be naked. He romps around his house naked and wild and free. Until he romps into his parents’ closet and is inspired to get dressed. First he tries on his dad’s clothes, but they don’t fit well. Then he tries on his mom’s clothes, and wow! The boy looks great. He looks through his mom’s jewelry and makeup and tries that on, too. When he’s discovered by his mother and father, the whole family (including the dog!) get in on the fun, and they all get dressed together.
This charming and humorous story was inspired by bestselling and award-winning author Peter Brown’s own childhood.
Yeah, we’re gonna need a little more than that. Usually when I do a cover reveal I’ll leave it to the end of a post. But because I had a couple questions about this cover for Peter, I figured I should give you a sense of what we’ll be discussing. And so . . . the jacket!
Friends and neighbors, I introduce to you, Mr. Peter Brown himself.
Betsy Bird: All right, sir. Let’s get right down to it. This book has a naked kid right smack dab on the cover. There is a long, storied, reputable history of unapologetic nude kids in picture books (Maurice Sendak’s work on In the Night Kitchen comes most immediately to mind). Can you give me a little background on how you came to the decision to make this kid literally front and center sans clothing?
Peter Brown: The fact is, Fred spends the first third of this book au naturel, and I decided to be honest with readers and alert them to what’s in store. So yes, the cover shows Fred marching, naked, through his home. I think I can get away with this because throughout the book I make sure to position Fred so that we never see any of his private parts, and because the title Fred Gets Dressed lets everyone know that Fred will be covering up soon. Even if a reader is uncomfortable with nudity, at least they’ll know Fred’s nudity won’t last long. I have a hunch (and I could be disastrously wrong) that when most little kids see this cover they will absolutely want to know what happens in the story.
BB: And I suspect that your suspicions are well founded. Now most naked books sort of go the route of Adam Rex’s work on The Dirty Cowboy. The character usually looks a bit embarrassed about their lack of appropriate outerwear. Either that or it’s a child who looks like they’re getting away with something. This kid? That’s a strut if ever I saw one. Why the different tone?
PB: There are a few brief, wonderful years, early in a child’s life, when they don’t yet understand the meaning of shame. They certainly don’t understand why they’d ever be ashamed of their own bodies. To most little kids, being naked is simply a fun break from wearing clothes. When I was very young, after a bath I would routinely go running and giggling into the living room to air-dry beside the fireplace. It was delightful. I couldn’t understand why the rest of my family didn’t dry off that way. Like four-year-old me, Fred proudly, happily, frolics naked through the house, without a care in the world, and we see the sweet innocence of childhood in all its glory.
BB: If I know illustrators then I know that this cover wasn’t how you would have originally tackled this project. How did this cover change over time from when you first envisioned it?
PB: I had to navigate several delicate subjects in this book, and there were many conversations with my friends at Little, Brown & Co. about how to tell this story without crossing any lines. One of those conversations was about whether I could get away with showing a little boy’s naked buns on the cover. My initial idea for the cover had Fred facing away from us, staring into a big, mysterious closet, buns out. That idea was shot down. Buns were fine on the interior pages, I was told, just not on the cover. However, the overall composition of the cover art stayed relatively unchanged, I simply changed Fred’s pose. I’m glad my initial idea was shot down, because instead of that static image of Fred standing still, we now see him proudly marching across the cover, which is funnier and more dynamic and truer to his personality.
BB: It’s been a bit of a while since you’ve done a picture book that was wholly human without so much as a monstrous teacher or tutu-wearing bear in sight. I think the last time I saw you write a book about a human child was The Curious Garden. Why the return to humanity?
PB: For some reason, I usually feel like making animal stories. Occasionally, I feel like making monster stories or robot stories. This time I felt like making a story about a little boy who is a lot like me when I was young. Fred Gets Dressed is actually my most personal story to date. It’s a tribute to my mom, who passed away in 2018, and it’s based on a sweet experience I had with her when I was four-years old. One afternoon, I got into her makeup drawer and began playing around with all the different cases and tubes and brushes, and when she found me I had makeup smeared across my face. My mom’s reaction was typical for her; with zero judgment whatsoever, she simply cleaned off my face and demonstrated how she put on her makeup. I followed along, and put makeup on myself, and we had a great time together. Looking back now, I realize that her parenting-style was ahead of its time, and there are some valuable lessons in that moment I shared with her, so I told that story and stuck pretty closely to my real-life experience, which of course meant that the characters had to be human.
BB: I’m also very curious about how you’re really letting Fred here pop out against his background. It’s sort of a customary brown and brownish green with the occasional hint of red or white. Fred, in contrast, practically glows on the page. Also, the ends of his extremities come off as quite pink. I take it you’re working with Photoshop as your medium, but why did you make the color choices that you did?
PB: The art in this book was created with only four colors: hot pink, lime green, black and white. You might think that approach would result in a very limited color palette, but by overlapping those four colors and changing their levels of transparency, I was able to get a surprising variety of colors. My main focus was pink, which is my favorite color. If you look through most of my books, you’ll see pink here and there, usually as an accent color. In this book I decided to use pink more widely, along with lime green, and I tried to balance those vibrant colors with neutral tones in the backgrounds and props. I paid special attention to the skin tones. Mom’s skin is pale with pink undertones, just like my real mom. I wanted Dad’s skin to be darker, and more olive, so I used a base of lime green, and neutralized it with a faint overlay of pink. I wanted Fred to look like a combination of his parents, and so his body has some areas of green and some areas of pink. As you mentioned, Fred’s pinkness is most noticeable in his hands and feet, which is true of many people in real life, but is exaggerated in Fred’s case. And when you combine Fred’s colorful skin tones with the soft white glow I put around him, he really pops against the neutral backgrounds. All this was is an effort to make our protagonist seem full of color and energy and life.
BB: Is Fred a solo act? Is Fred the start of a series? Can we hope to see more Fred in our future?
PB: I think we see plenty of Fred in Fred Gets Dressed. Some might say that we see too much of him. Whatever the case, one of my favorite parts of this story is it’s open-ending. What happens next? Will Fred continue dressing this way, or is it a one-time event? There are no wrong answers. But if I make a sequel I’ll have to answer those questions definitively for everyone, and I think it’s important to let readers decide for themselves what Fred does next. So I’m fairly certain that this will not become a series.
Many thanks to Peter, to Victoria Stapleton, and the illustrious folks of Little, Brown & Co. for this reveal and interview. Keep on struttin’!
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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