Meet Harry Stevenson. He doesn’t live in a castle, or a witch’s cottage, or anywhere exciting like that. His home is in a flat with seven-year-old Billy and his mum and dad. At a first glance, Harry doesn’t seem any different from your average guinea pig. He has ginger fur and sparkly black eyes and likes nothing more than snacking on a piece of broccoli.
But don’t be fooled! Harry may just want to sleep and eat (and then eat some more) but somehow he always manages to get swept up in adventures: whether it’s surfing the Pacific on a picnic plate or accidentally attaching himself to a helium balloon.
Getting inside the mind of a guinea pig.
by Ali Pye
Harry Stevenson is a reluctant hero; he just wants a quiet life but ends up having all sorts of escapades thanks to his greedy stomach. When I was working on ‘The Adventures of Harry Stevenson’ I needed to write much of the story from Harry’s viewpoint. Luckily I’ve kept guinea pigs off and on for many years, so I had lots to draw on. I based Harry Stevenson’s character on the guinea pigs I’ve known; his name even comes from one of them. Like most guinea pigs, Harry is interested in two main things: being sociable, and scoffing food.
Harry Stevenson lives with the Smith family, and his best friend is seven-year-old Billy Smith. Harry adores Billy, and Billy loves him back. I’ve based their relationship on the way my sons connect with our guinea pigs at home. I have lots of photos from recent years, showing my boys curled up on the sofa with their favourite pig. The boys have got bigger and the sofa seems smaller these days. The guinea pigs seem happy to be handled, and will even step onto our hands when we go to pick them up! Guinea pigs can be very affectionate to humans if they’re treated well (my guinea pig Badger will rest her chin on my chest and gaze up at my face), and I’ve tried to show this in the book. In real life, Harry would have to live with another guinea pig – they’re not happy living by themselves and are always chatting to each other. We point this out in the book as it’s really important. It’s even illegal in Switzerland to keep just one guinea pig on its own.
Harry’s other love is food, which leads him into all sorts of problems. He especially loves carrots, spinach, dandelions and his guinea pig nuggets. In real life, there is lots of information online about the best foods for guinea pigs. My own guinea pigs like a varied diet and get bored if they have the same type of vegetable too often – just like we would. They are happiest grazing on grass outside, and look so content lazing under a shelter on sunny days that it makes me smile. In the book, Harry is initially fearful of ‘outside’ but learns to love it – particularly the grass. He is so happy that he ‘popcorns’ around his run – that’s one of the funniest things guinea pigs do, when they just randomly bounce up into the air with joy.
One other thing I’d like to say about the mind of a guinea pig is that they’re VERY cautious creatures. Their mind is attuned to potential dangers – even in our surburban home I think our guinea pigs are constantly checking for eagles! I guess that’s how you survive if you’re plump and fluffy without claws or fangs. Our guinea pigs like to sit underneath something, with their noses and whiskers poking out so they can keep an eye on things (they’re very nosy). Harry is the same. He is in no way a natural adventurer, things just happen to him. He likes the security of having Billy around, but sometimes his stomach gets the better of his brain and he leaves his cage – he always looks around for danger first, though.
I hope that this has given you a bit of an insight into guinea pigs. If you are willing to look after them properly, they have the sweetest characters and make brilliant pets – just like Harry Stevenson.
Ali Pye is the author and illustrator of a number of picture books, including You Can Never Run Out of Love and Rosie Is My Best Friend. The Adventures of Harry Stevenson is her first fiction series and was inspired
by a real-life guinea pig (who turned out to be a girl and was re-named Harriet Stevenson). She lives in Twickenham with her husband, children and two guinea pigs: Beryl and Badger.