Picture book author-illustrator Ryan T. Higgins has no shortage of distinctively charming anthropomorphic characters. Among his most popular is Bruce—the curmudgeonly ursine protagonist who, despite his best efforts, can’t seem to escape the attention of three adoring (and adorable) mice. In Hey, Bruce! An Interactive Book, out in September from Disney-Hyperion, the titular character returns at his most reluctant and most hilarious.
Every Christmas, I take out my copy of Santa Bruce—and I don’t even have kids! What do you think makes the series so beloved by both children and adults?
My hope is that there’s a little bit of everything for everyone in my books... but really, they’re mostly for me. My goal is to have as much fun as possible making books, and I hope my audience has fun with me.
I lucked out when Bruce walked into my head years ago. We all know a few lovable grumps. My grandfather was one. I’m drawn to these sorts of characters, probably because I’m such a people pleaser that writing about a grump is therapeutic for me.
One convenient thing about writing stories about a grump is that I can get away with more bad things happening to him before the audience stops laughing and starts feeling sympathy for him. And when the cause of all those mishaps is some adorable mice, all the better.
I think another thing that helps me as a storyteller is that my characters are very real to me. They have lives going on inside my head and my books are (hopefully) well-curated snapshots. I hope it shows that I care for my characters as individuals, making them more compelling to readers.
What can you share about the newest Mother Bruce book? What makes it stand apart from the other titles in the series?
All my books are the result of me having fun in my studio. But Hey, Bruce! was pretty much just me having fun. In a lot of ways, it was my own version of self-care. I took the months to make this book as sort of a vacation from worrying what others think. I really reconnected with myself during the process and discovered I am still a kid at heart who thinks falling pianos and jokes about boogers are funny.
I had wanted to make an interactive book for a long time, but then Bruce and the mice got involved and hijacked it! All I had to do was keep up and take notes. The premise of the story is that Rupert, Thistle, and Nibbs want to make an interactive book with Bruce as the star. But Bruce doesn’t want to be in the book at all. He wants a nap. So, the mice enlist the help of the reader in getting Bruce to sleep. Mayhem ensues—along with plenty of jokes.
The deadpan humor is so wonderfully effective throughout the Mother Bruce series. Where do you gather your inspiration for the interactions between Bruce, Rupert, Thistle, and Nibbs?
Bruce, Rupert, Thistle, and Nibbs are each different aspects of my own personality. I’m sometimes grumpy, sometimes particular, sometimes silly, and sometimes obliviously optimistic. There are other parts to me, too, but those four corners of my brain are well suited to getting into mishaps when they interact with each other. That’s essentially what the Bruce books are: me having ridiculous conversations with myself and seeing what happens.
Will we be seeing more of Penelope Rex soon?
Yes! I just finished Penelope Rex 3... but I’m sworn to secrecy about it. Which is why I can’t tell you it’s about Penelope taking Walter, the class goldfish she’s afraid of, home for the weekend.
Of all your characters, is there one that you personally relate to the most?
I’m the most like Nibbs, the people-pleasing, optimistic, often-oblivious mouse with a hat. Though, as I get older, I’m becoming more and more like Bruce. I think I’ll strike a balance between the two in about a decade. After that, I’ll have to buy my own unwelcome mat and change the name of my road to Go Away Lane.
What can you share about other upcoming projects?
I’m very excited about the project I’m working on now. It’s another Bruce book. I never know how much I’m supposed to say about what I’m working on... in case we change the story or maybe I’ll get in trouble with my publisher. But this one is pretty set. So, I think I can say a couple things about it. It’s a spoof on “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Except it's called “The Legend of Soggy Hollow.” And instead of a Headless Horseman, there is a Horseless Horseman. But that’s it. I can say no more or else my publisher w—