Brandon Perry Interview

One local author remembers his late mother and celebrates new life experiences.

Otis and Clara by Brandon Perry. pp.43. $19.99.

Virginia Living: What inspired you to write this picture book?

Brandon Perry: I wanted to create a story that encapsulated the message to all ages on the importance of building confidence, stepping out of comfort zones, and enjoying the beautiful journey along the way. 

I started writing this story shortly after our son was born and hoped to find a way to share part of my story and inspire others. Since my mom passed away suddenly in 2011, I also wanted to find a unique way for our son to get to know his late grandmother. The last birthday card I received from her included the phrase, “Hoping for blue skies and calm waters.” This phrase is on the dedication page to our son and is woven throughout the book as Clara is talking to Otis. 

Otis is inspired by our English bulldog, and many of his character traits perfectly fit our dog (including hating bugs). Clara is inspired by my late mother. She loved dogwood flowers and Cardinals were her favorite birds. They’re often known as representatives of passed loved ones, symbols of hope. Every time I see one, I know my mom is nearby. 

What do you want readers to get from it?

As a teacher, I see students navigating the peaks and valleys of life each day. Even as adults, we all navigate our own mountains as we pursue goals and overcome the challenges in these adventures. I wanted to create a story for everyone to relate to these moments in our lives. To highlight the importance of stepping toward new experiences, gaining confidence through the journey, and finding happiness in the friendships we build along the way.

Why did you become a teacher, and what have you learned along the way?

In 2011, I took a great leap into the uncomfortable by embarking on a semester in Patagonia, Chile, with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). Spending three months backpacking and climbing in the rugged and wild terrain was grueling, but this experience prepared me for my biggest challenge. Ten days after returning home from this trip, my mom passed away unexpectedly. The tools I gained in Patagonia guided me through that time. Because I wanted to make a difference and give back—mainly by relaying the importance of education and experiential learning—I altered my path to pursue teaching. 

I’ve come to learn and greatly appreciate the tremendous power of community throughout my teaching career. I always tell my students how I learn as much from them as they do from me. We are all on a learning journey, and it is incredible to embark on this each year. I’m grateful for the vast community built each year with students and teachers. It provides such a place of belonging for students. 

What are your five favorite things about Virginia?

I have always loved Virginia. Living in and traveling to different places have deepened my appreciation for my home state. These are just some of the many things I love about Virginia. 

  • Shenandoah National Park—I fondly explored the park as a kid and am grateful to be so close now living in Charlottesville. The mountain in Otis and Clara, Dogwood Mountain, is inspired by the beautiful blue ridge mountains. 
  • Cities and Towns—Virginia has the best cities and towns to visit. I love taking weekend trips to explore, especially the quaint small towns Virginia offers. Some of my favorite spots to visit include Middleburg, Charlottesville (okay, we live here, but there is so much to do), and Fredericksburg.
  • History—As a humanities teacher, I have always been interested in Virginia’s history. I especially appreciate learning about the Indigenous peoples of this area. 
  • Seasons and Wildlife—I sincerely appreciate the beauty of having four distinct seasons in Virginia and seeing all kinds of wildlife. 
  • Restaurants—I love exploring and trying the excellent restaurants throughout Virginia. I lived in Fredericksburg for a stint, and Foode still holds a special place in my heart. 

Are there any other creative projects brewing?

We are working on creating a reading journal to accompany Otis and Clara that will include coloring pages, journal prompts, and reflection space. I am also beginning the sequel to Otis and Clara and have started ironing out the manuscript.

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