by jennie nunn | April 24, 2012 | People
The prolific Peter Barnes, at his home in Alexandria
When he was in the 10th grade, Peter Barnes was asked one very important question by Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist James Michener. "He came to speak at Swarthmore College, where my mother worked, and she got me into the talk, and he asked us, ‘How many of you want to be a novelist?' Every hand in the room was raised," says the senior Washington correspondent for Fox Business Network. "Then he said, ‘If you try to be a novelist, you'll be broke. Go into journalism.'" Flash-forward a few decades, and the former CNBC Washington correspondent is still following Michener's advice.
Barnes, who has met the Dalai Lama, interviewed President Bill Clinton, and traveled with President Barack Obama to the G-20 and G-8 summits, starts every day before 6 AM by combing a handful of daily newspapers and scouring countless websites to follow economic trends. "Even if I weren't working at Fox, I'd still read five papers a day in my free time. I love this stuff." But there is another side to the prolific reporter and Alexandria resident, a job reserved for weekends that fulfills that initial childhood dream: penning children's books. The idea, he says, was conceived in 1992 while on the island of Nantucket, where the Barneses have a second home. "I overheard a customer in Mitchell's Book Corner ask the owner why there were no children's books about Nantucket," says Barnes, who has written nearly 20 titles for kids ages five to nine.
Casting mice as protagonists, Barnes aims to educate children about everything from the branches of government to the Constitution. In 1993 he self-published his first book, Nat, Nat, The Nantucket Cat. "The darn thing sold 1,000 copies over Christmas that year. It turns out there wasn't much out there in terms of civic education books for kids," says Barnes. After the success of that first book, his wife, Cheryl, started to draw the illustrations. The couple's latest tome, Liberty Lee's Tail of Independence, is due out this spring under their new imprint Little Patriot Press—a name created by Cheryl—with DC's Regnery Publishing; Madison Mouse, A Tail of The Constitution will follow in the spring of next year. "We're not going to do a book about a cute puppy or kitty," says Barnes. "It's going to be something that fills a need, is a good keepsake, or can be used in the classroom."
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOSHUA COGAN