Monday, February 1, 2016

Ryan Higgins, "Mother Bruce," and Imprinting

In his new picture book, Mother Bruce, author/illustrator Ryan Higgins offers a twist on the traditional tale of Mother Goose, complete with a comical new way of teaching the concept of "imprinting," or the near-instant attachment of an infant to the one caring for it. Ryan came to my library recently to read Mother Bruce, and when he came to the page where four, just-hatched goslings eagerly shout "Mama" at a cantankerous bear named Bruce, he noted with a grin: "That's called imprinting."

Ryan Higgins gets ready to read! (All photo credits: Bruce Guthrie)

And it's imprinting that gives Mother Bruce its laugh-out-loud  quality. No matter that Bruce is a bear, who actually wanted to eat the goslings when they were still in egg form. And no matter that Bruce does everything that he can to discourage the goslings' view of him as their mother. Their attachment to Bruce continues to deepen (even as surly, headphones-wearing teen geese), and eventually Bruce must make his peace with the situation. Kirkus gave Mother Bruce a starred review, calling it the book "visually beautiful, clever, edgy and very funny." Booklist noted that "this case of mistaken identity will lend itself to a fun-filled storytime," while Publishers Weekly concluded that Mother Bruce is, "in its way a book about unconventional families."

At our library event, Ryan, who lives in southern Maine with his wife and two young children, said he first creates a good amount of his illustrations in the traditional way, then uses a computer to do the final art. This way, Ryan said he can create the distinctive textures that make the illustrations in Mother Bruce really stand out, while still being able to "hit the undo button," as he put it, when he needs to make changes. Although Ryan has created several other picture books, most notably Wilfred, it is Mother Bruce that has become his break-out book. He's already written a sequel, Hotel Bruce, and is preparing to write a third book starring the grumpy bear.

Ryan and a young fan decide what to draw next.

Meanwhile, while Ryan is doing fewer school visits these days as he focuses full-time on creating picture books, I can attest to how great he is with an audience. Because of bad weather, we had a tiny -- but appreciative --audience the night he came to my library. Ryan didn't miss a beat, opting to sit close to the audience to read his book, and then offering to do some live drawing after taking questions. All in all, everyone had a great time, and now we all can't wait to see the next adventures of the perpetually-scowling Bruce!

End Notes: Thanks to the folks as Disney/Hyperion for a review copy of Mother Bruce, and for sending Ryan out on the book tour. Thanks to Kerri Poore of Politics & Prose for "booking" Ryan's event at my library. And thanks to Bruce Guthrie for the photos!

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