By Ben Parsons and Maureen Tai, 12 October 2019
“Rusty tiptoed out into the bathroom to look at himself in the mirror. There he was: Brown the Superhero. His heart hammered under his brown disguise. He was no longer Rusty. He was Brown.”
Only twice before have I cried while reading to the kids : at the close of Charlotte’s Web (by E. B. White) and when a character meets a tragic end in Wolf Hollow (by Lauren Volk). Brown, a middle grade illustrated novel, brings the count to three. Translated from its original Norwegian, Brown tells the story of how a boy, still grieving from the death of his grandfather, finds a unique way of meting out retributive justice on a gang of bullies. The author’s poetic sensibilities are evident in the gentle yet effective text and the story’s perfect balance of childlike excitement and sombre realism. Here are Ben’s thoughts about this lovely book.
M: We read Brown together recently, right?
B: I know that.
M: Well, can you tell me in a few words what the book is about?
B: The book is about a boy called Rusty. His grandpa dies and while his mum and dad are like, doing stuff, Rusty goes to his aunt’s house. When he goes to the basement to get some juice, he finds three buckets of brown paint.
M: And then?
B: He takes the paint and he tells his aunt he is going to paint his fort that he made with his friend called Jack.
M: What is Jack like?
B: He is sometimes annoying and tells tall tales.
M: So you don’t like Jack?
B: I’m ok with him.
M: So what else is interesting about Rusty?
B: There are these boys – Anton, Ruben and the minister’s son – and they bully Rusty and Jack by breaking their fort and they keep doing it. So at midnight, Rusty wears his superhero costume that he made and he takes the paint and paints the bullies’ bicycles brown.
M: Is that why he calls himself Brown?
B: Ya. That is Rusty’s superhero name. Because the paint is brown.
M: What else happens in the book? And no spoilers.
B: This is so hard not to do a spoiler. Ummm, also the grandpa’s ghost appears on his grandpa’s favourite rock.
M: Is it scary?
B: I’m not sure if it is scary for Rusty, but I would be scared.
M: If I became a ghost and came back and haunted you, would you be scared?
B: Maybe. But I don’t think so.
M: So did you like this book, and why?
B: Yeah, it was funny but sad too because the grandpa died and Rusty would never get to see him again.
M: Who was your favourite character in the book?
M: Wait a second. You didn’t talk about Lou. Who is she?
B: Lou is a friend of Rusty and Jack, and she’s a girl. She’s kind, nice and fun to be with. Rusty and Jack always run to her house when the bullies are chasing them.
M: Whose house would you run to if you were being chased by bullies?
B: To Edward’s house [Edward is one of Ben’s best friends].
M: Do you know the way to Edward’s house even?
B: Ya (laughs) [Not really].
For ages 7 and above.