This is my June Hedge a gram, the time I take every month to talk about what is going on in my life as an author – illustrator of children’s books.
We have just been to NYC to Book Expo, the largest book convention in the US. My publisher Penguin/Random House has a large booth, and I was able to see my new book, THE TURNIP which will be out next fall. It was the first time I’ve seen it as a bound book which is always a mixture of elation, gratitude and a twinge of worry. After the intensity of finally wrapping it up under pressure, I worry that I will have missed something. That being said, if my deadline were to be extended I would probably perfect and change things to the detriment of the book! I have seen the printed pages, but it looks and feels differently when it is a bound book with end papers.
In NYC I had a meeting with my editor, Margaret. We looked over the first two pages and it went well. Because I have done two Gingerbread stories previously, the characters will remain somewhat the same and the setting will still be Switzerland. I haven’t started to make Gingerbread as yet, but I’m looking forward to creating some of the characters. The borders will be in the shape of musical instruments with a double bass shape, the largest of the stringed instruments in a symphony orchestra. I also have added a slurry of musical notes and luckily I asked my husband, a professional musician with the Boston Symphony Orchestra if I had painted them correctly. The answer was “no”, so I corrected them. I used to play the clarinet in school and I was surprised at myself for not knowing which way the staff on a note goes. In the third floor of our house I have a big airy room with a balcony for a library. It’s stuffed with books, especially big, heavy art books. All the novels and non-picture books are in other bookshelves downstairs. Occasionally I feel a little guilty about 45 years of books collected, but this week I have had nothing but happy thoughts!
I have made numerous trips to Europe, following my husband and the Boston Symphony and doing research. I never return without books from museums, outdoor museums and tourist spots, filling at least one suitcase. I rediscovered one book with Alpine interiors and lots of furniture and people in traditional clothes. Even though I have the Internet at my fingertips, I feel like worlds open up when I open my books, even if they are in a language I don’t speak. It is one of the ways I can create an atmosphere in my books. This summer, I’ll travel again to Europe and hope to discover more of the little details that give authenticity to my frame of reference.
When I was a child, we had family friends, Jean and Bob Hoss who had antique German glass ornaments for their Christmas tree, hundreds of them. Around the base was a white sparkley cloth with a village and figures. The best part was that there were small candles in antique holders, weighted by lead stabilizers. After eggnog and delicious cookies made by Mrs. Hoss, several of the parents stood by around the room with fire extinguishers. The house was a wooden New England Cape filled with antiques and much was flammable.
When the clock chimed, the tree was lit. It was a beautiful and unique sight, glowing in the darkened room. We sang O Tannenbaum (Oh Christmas Tree) and many other carols until we ended with Silent Night. In some years snow fell outside the windows, but I will never forget family and friend’s faces lit by the flickering candle light, the scent of evergreens and wax and the feeling of gratitude for this sweet poignant gathering. In my book, I will be able to recreate a beautiful Christmas tree. It’s something I’ve done before, but it still fills me with admiration. I admire the idea that we would take a tree, so beautiful but not exalted and make it a focal point. It’s a lovely custom that never fails to set the season apart.
I hope you will take an idea and add your research and memories and create a painting or story. It’s a way to keep the past alive and to anticipate the future!
Spring is around the corner and nothing could be more exhilarating and inspiring than going for a long run in our beautiful towns of Hingham and Norwell Massachusetts. Snow on the ground and ice covered lakes make a great show case for reddish maple tops just coming into bud and the vernal pools that are full of life and are a mahogany green from the tannins from the fallen leaves. Our turtle pond which we built during the year I wrote and illustrated MOSSY is still covered with snow. We are anxiously awaiting for the ice to melt to see if our eight Koi – goldfish survived the winter. Every month I take a little time to give you a snapshot on how my new book is progressing here is the report on GINGERBREAD CHRISTMAS.
In a week or so, I’ll be traveling to New York to meet with my editor, Margaret about GINGERBREAD CHRISTMAS. I have done two gingerbread books in the past, THE GINGERBREAD BABY in 1999 and GINGERBREAD FRIENDS in 2008. They both have fold out pages near the end of the book, and in my new story, there will be a fold out Christmas tree, covered with ornaments including lots of cookie ornaments. The Gingerbread Baby will be running away as usual and he picks a hiding place on the tree. I will make it nearly impossible to figure out which ornament in the Gingerbread Baby who has the biggest challenge of his life, being quiet and being perfectly still. I remember that when I was little, it was very hard to be quiet and perfectly still.
When I was in fifth grade and took up playing the clarinet I could never imagine the hours and hours I have spent as an adult, not playing, but listening to classical music. My husband, Joe Hearne plays the double-bass in the Boston Symphony Orchestra and I almost always get a ticket to the weekly performance. I wrote and illustrated BERLIOZ THE BEAR about a bass playing bear, and I’m using music as an important element again in GINGERBREAD CHRISTMAS. In my story, Matti bakes gingerbread instruments, including a bass and a clarinet. He peeks in the oven before they are baked and they come out alive and playing! I won’t be writing a musical accompaniment to my book, but have allowed space for an overture, which is a musical introduction, a march, a waltz, and a dreamy aria, which is a song for one or two people
Artists do not like doing the same thing twice, so I am exploring border ideas that involve baking, which would be in keeping with the subject matter, but ideas that I haven’t done before. I think there will be some intense research in that area. I love chocolate, but I like a lighter feel to my books and dark chocolaty brown would work as an accent color, but not as the whole border. Since the book is set in Switzerland, and we are planning a trip in late summer, I hope to find some special European confections that will ad flavor to the book!
I have almost finished a miniature, cartoon-like version of my book, called a dummy, and I am looking forward to going over it with my editor in New York in a few weeks. This is when the story is still flexible and easy to change. My favorite part is painting the finished pictures and I have to remind myself to be patient.
Good luck with your creative projects.
Your friend, Jan Brett
Happy March Everyone!
I am looking out into our backyard and seeing the snow come down – another 6″ is expected. All the wild birds are eager to eat before the storm and since the feeder is in front of the window, we have a bird feeder theater. We’ve had so much snow it has covered the bird bath and the rhododendron and is close to the window sill. The birds plumage against the white snow is ever inspiring, and maybe this showcasing of white is why my books with snow in them are my favorites. I can’t decide which is more striking, the brilliant red of the cardinals and blue of the blue jays or the subtle browns of the song sparrows and wrens. The woodpeckers are in a class by themselves, reminding me how nature’s patterns and colors are unexpected and perfect. Our Red Bellied woodpeckers are large and have black and white stripes in a ladder pattern up their back. On their head is a splash of vibrant orange-red. The Flickers, another woodpecker, in flight flash a brilliant yellow gold on the underside of their wings. The backs are brown with white tiger stripes and the bellies are cream with black polka dots. As if these colors aren’t remarkable enough they have a deep dark V on their chest and red on their heads. I have put wild birds in my books, the Snowy Owl in THE ANIMALS’ SANTA, the Toucan in THE UMBRELLA, and robins in THE EASTER EGG. And since chickens are birds, CINDERS, A CHICKEN CINDERELLA qualifies, too.
Another theme that I keep exploring in my books is baking, and this is the perfect time of year to bake, it being very cold outside here in New England. It is race season and since I like long distances, I start with a breakfast of an egg and a slice of my bread. The bread is made with flour I send away for from King Arthur Bread company. There is an ancient grain mix and a nine grain flour that I mix with flax seed meal, their special seed mix and hazelnut flour. There are also dried cranberries, lingonberries, chopped walnuts and my chicken’s eggs in the bread. I love kneading the dough and thinking about the book I’m just starting, so far called THE GINGERBREAD CHRISTMAS. Just as the Gingerbread Baby pops out of the oven a live character, in this book, gingerbread instruments fly out playing music. In the book, Matti intentionally peeks in the oven.
Every week I go to my husband Joe’s concerts at Symphony Hall. I love music but am a listener rather than a player. My seat is in the first balcony where I can see him and his double bass – over six feet tall. The double bass is one of the instruments Matti shapes and cooks in the oven, along with a violin, cello, trumpet, clarinet, french horn and bass drum. I have spent most of February making the instruments into characters. The Gingerbread Baby will be a singer and will always be in the spotlight!
I am working on the book dummy for GINGERBREAD CHRISTMAS. I’ve done a manuscript but it’s a little sketchy. I’m hoping the visuals will help the story telling along. In the meantime, I’m hoping to spend March painting the dummy while enjoying the birds in snow, the Boston Symphony and baking Gingerbread along with some long runs where maybe those good ideas I hope will always come will surprise me.
Happy reading and creating,
Every month I take a little time to write an update about what is happening in the process of writing and illustrating a children’s book. This January I am finishing the last double page spreads of THE TURNIP. During December I was on a book tour across the US, and I took a page with me to work on. This Christmas we visited Durango,CO to see my husband’s family, and I added another double page spread, went on to Nagano, Japan to meet my daughter’s family, and I finished another spread. Its not very prudent to be carrying artwork through airport lounges and various conveyances but I have a strict deadline. My New Year’s resolution this year is to finish next year’s book earlier so I am not as pressured. I have yet to decide on a story for next year, but I have several ideas I’m working on.
Many of my books are in a snowy setting and the Happo valley in Nagano is one of the snowiest places I’ve ever been. The trees and houses are covered with billowy mounds and mounds of snow. It almost looked like a cartoon of a place that received a tremendous snowfall. The tall evergreens have beautiful, smooth, chestnut colored trunks, and graceful needles that look like hands. The snow covers them like blobs of whipped cream, and they soar into the sky. Some of the houses are practically hidden under six feet of snow on their roofs, and the yellow of the lights coming from within are sometimes the only evidence that there is really a house under there. The roads are very narrow and have walls of snow on either side. One night as we had dinner, people called out to look at a creature in the snow. It was a fat and fluffy weasel like creature, creamy red, with tiny ears and a long thick neck. It scampered over the drifts stopping to eat snow. It was the size of a small dog and is called the Kamaitachi. We also saw fox tracks, and were told they were from a red fox. We were amazed to hear about another forest animal that was regularly seen outside our lodging. It is called a Japanese Serow and looks like cross between a tiny goat and an antelope. It is buffy white and grey with a very,very fluffy and long coat and tiny horns. Its legs are delicate and I can’t imagine how they survive in that deep snow. I woke up at 5:00AM to go to the window where they are seen but I missed them.They generally are about at dawn and dusk. It would be nice to put these animals in a book, set in Japan, but it is a big challenge for an American to be familiar with Japanese culture to do.
I have a huge bulletin board that takes up half my art studio, where I hang up all my finished artwork. I try to balance the colors and images. What I really need to do, and it takes a lot of work, is photocopy all the pages, tape them together, and create a book. A book has a certain rhythm that shows as each page reveals itself. As a child looks at a book, each spread is a world of its own until the page is turned and a new image is exposed. I can fine tune my work when it is presented in this way, in a finish dummy.
In all honesty, there is a wonderful crescendo of feeling as a book is getting finished. I feel very free, in that I can subtlety change things at the 11th hour. On the other hand, I wish I could have another month to work on the paintings!
Good luck with all your creative endeavors! If you are a teacher, I applaud your encouragement to all the children that are looking for a creative way to express themselves.