Archive for category Jan Brett Posts

August 2017 Hedge a gram

Happy August!

I love August because so many in our family are born in August, and are Leo the Lions, my husband Joe, daughter Lia, daughter-in-law Catherine, and Grandson, Gavin.
We are out in the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts for the summer, as my husband Joe, plays the Double Bass in the Boston Symphony Orchestra. I have several children’s books with musical themes, BERLIOZ about a bass playing bear, and GINGERBREAD CHRISTMAS, where inside you can see instruments of the Symphony Orchestra made of gingerbread, as well as the gingerbread baby himself.
Much has been written about art imitating life, and how the everyday world inspires the imaginary world or when the two merge. An interesting incident happened as I was hard at work on my new book THE SNOWY NAP that is a curious example. My studio is part of a sprawling log cabin set up on a cliff overlooking Goose Pond. I share my studio with Little Snow, who became our pet when I needed a model for the white rabbit in THE ANIMAL’S SANTA. He lives in a fairly large, open area in the cabin also made of logs, raised up on legs, and he is close enough that I can look over my shoulder at him. You may have seen him when I went on the three week book tour in 2014 on our bus, he came too. I was intensely working, listening to an audio book when out of the blue there came a hard rap, almost a bang. We live in the woods and thought a branch had come crashing down on the roof over my head. I took a quick look out the windows, fore and aft, but didn’t see anything, so I went back to work. Again I was startled by a resounding, sharp, very loud rap, only this time, I realized it came from Little Snow’s corral. I got up again and realized he had thumped the floor with his strong back foot. We’ve had little snow for four years and he does all sorts of antics, but he has never made this very loud bang. I knew that wild rabbits thump the ground when they see danger to warn other rabbits so I checked out the windows again. It was morning, and the woods and lake were sparkling in the dappled sunshine. Little Snow seemed a little frozen in place, but seeing nothing, I turned to go back to work, peeking out the hard to get to window beside his pen as I did so. There was a black bear’s face looking up at me!
The amazing thing for me was that Little Snow is a domesticated rabbit. I can’t imagine how many generations his ancestor bunnies have lived under human watch. Yet he recognized that the bear was not in his comfort zone. Then, not two days later, a friends brought their chocolate lab to visit. He ran into my art studio and looked right into Little Snow’s corral, it’s hinged door wide open. This time Little Snow ran to the other side but didn’t make his alarm thump.
As long as we have had Little Snow he’s never even seen a dog. I am left wondering about animal intelligence and instincts and I am waiting for the next alarm thump to help with my theory that our pets have complex behaviors that are sometimes hidden from us.
In THE SNOWY NAP, I overstate the interaction between Hedgie the hedgehog and the farm animals as my imagination takes my story into fiction. Hedgie takes a last ramble around the farm before the snow flies, and for him, hibernation. When the animals gently taunt him about what he will be missing, Hedgie tries to stay up to see winter. This doesn’t work out, and luckily, before he is frozen, he is rescued by a little girl who brings him inside for warmth and food. Outside, the animals can see his wonderful life inside as he views winter scenes from his cozy window. At the first opportunity the outside animals move inside!
I am working on the finishes of THE SNOWY NAP, and the beginning pages are sequential. I have a book dummy that maps out the exact 32 pages the book will be. My next spread will skip ahead to one of the snowy scenes, and then I’ll do the farm animals and wild animals in the house scene which is uproarious and funny. The publisher, Penguin Random House likes to have a partial dummy to promote the book early on, way before the book is due which is why I do it this way. I love this stage of the book when I feel I can enter the world I’ve created, it seems real.
I will probably get started writing the book that will follow. It is set in India, and has a tiger as the main character. The working title is THE RUNAWAY SLIPPERS. Four years as go I went to India and saw a wild tiger in a large game reserve from a jeep. It was very cat like and very large. You know when a tiger is on the move because the deer bark, and the monkey scream warning. Nothing can prepare you for the sound of that roar that makes hair stand up on the back of your neck, or the sight of the slinky, cryptic, majestic striped presence.
When I’m not looking forward to the next book, I am getting excited about my first early book signing on Cape Cod. I hope Cape Codders will stop by their famous historic bookstore, Eight Cousins, to let me sign them a copy of THE MERMAID. It will have been just published. My usual national book tour will start the day after Thanksgiving. All the details will be on my website. I am about to send copies of THE MERMAID to Bailey and Tony at the New England Aquarium. They introduced me to “Sy”, the Giant Pacific Octopus who features largely in THE MERMAID. Every year I make a picture of a momentous day in our year for my husband. This year I painted us at the aquarium, the day of our amazing visit. I made copies for Bailey and Tony, only I think their minds are totally emerged in the fascinating work they are doing with the aquatic creatures that make up their world at the New England Aquarium.
When I’m not painting I have been trail running on the stretch of the Appalachian Trail two miles from our cabin. The “thru” hikers, the intrepid people who have hiked from Georgia, are traveling North in large numbers this month. Upper Goose, the lake connected to us by a small channel has Appalachian club cabins for hikers to stay at if they choose. I really enjoy meeting the hikers who tell me their “trail names” which I then put up on my wall. The trip to Mt. Katadin in Maine from Georgia takes six months. It takes a lot of mental fortitude and physical endurance. They hike through weather extremes and with heavy packs. The tradition is that if you share the trail, or just want to show your admiration, you can offer trail magic. I tried to perfect my choc chip cookie recipe when my daughter was in Iraq as a US Marine and I was   told my recipe was good, so that’s what I bring on my runs to give as   trail magic. Here is my recipe, which is off the choc chip bag with a few modifications. I mostly concentrate on really good ingredients.
Sift 2 and 1/4 cups King Arthur flour
3/4 teas sea salt
1 teaspoon of baking powder
Combine after mixing the following:
1 and 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 cup Kate’s homemade butter, softened
3 of my chicken’s eggs( they are bantams), use 2 store eggs
1 teaspoon Baldwin’s vanilla extract or substitute high quality
1 bar of Ghiradelli’s white choc bar chopped up into small chunks
I LG packet of Ghiradelli’s semi sweet choc morsels.
I cook at 375 degrees for 8 minutes, but adjust to your own oven
So far, the thru hikers I’ve met are:

Honcho, Shop Teacher, Chugging Along, All Aboard, Speedy, Night Hawk, Slim Jim, Bear Pop, Capt Bob, Hiking Home, Young Gandolf, Blue Bird, Dr. GO- MO, Ogi, Two Step, Pio, Stack, and Warden.

I hope hikers stop at Goose Pond’s AT Cabins, I’ve only seen the cabins from the lake, but Upper Goose is a beautiful clear lake with great swimming.
Tonight I will go hear Joe play at a Symphony concert and let the music take me away to more interior worlds. Maybe we’ll see meteors over Tanglewood since we are near the Perseid meteor shower time, when the earth is going through the tail of 109P/ Swift-Tuttle Comet
Good luck with all your creative projects, and Happy Birthday Leo the Lions!
Your friend, Jan Brett

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Bear!

bear photo I hope the photo of the bear isn’t too fuzzy, I try not to get to close and allow the bear to get used to people. Then they will become nuisance bears and have to be relocated.

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Snow’s window

Snow’s window is center left. He can stand up and peer down into our keyhole garden with a cascading bird bath. Maybe the bear was having a drink, because we do not feed the birds in the Berkshire because it attracts bears.house garden

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Little Snow

little snow close up

I would never have guessed Little Snow, a domesticated rabbit would see a bear outside the house through the window and sound the alarm thump. It is the first time he has done it so dramatically.

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Snow’s Corral

Little Snow has gotten a lot bigger since his roll in my 2014 book THE ANIMAL’S SANTA. He is corral is next to my art desk, and he has a view into the woods.little snow in pen

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July 2017 Hedge a gram

Birch Bark

Research for THE SNOWY NAP

Happy July!

This is probably the most interesting time of the year in regards to my new book, the working title being THE SNOWY NAP. I always stop my work so I can write a bit about my work process. I like hearing about other artist’s approaches, so I we will describe my own for anyone who is interested.  I am, and always have been fascinated with the children’s book form. I think it is unique in commercial products because it is individually crafted. I do have a team I work with, the art director, Marikka, and the editor, Susan, and I don’t want to minimize their impact and efforts.  Much of a traditional children’s book though, is from the mind and hand of one person.
I have written the manuscript for THE SNOWY NAP, and completed the 32 page book dummy, a miniaturized and sketchy, cartoon version of my story. I had a meeting with the editor and art director at Penguin Random House in NYC last month, where they offered me their ideas and reactions. I’ve completed several finished pages and this is where the fun begins, because I can see the world that I am creating. Because I am using the characters, setting, and trim size of THE HAT, a picture book I wrote 20 years ago, I had the challenge of making it different, but I am still trying to stay true to the culture of Fyn Island in Denmark.
My husband Joe Hearne is a classical musician, and I have always loved the concept of themes and variations. If you are teaching children you could illustrate my idea with two pieces of music. Benjamin Britten’s The Young People’s Guide to the Orchestra, which is variations on themes by Purcell or Brahms Variations on a Theme by Haydn. THE SNOWY NAP is a variation on the theme of THE HAT.
In order to make THE SNOWY NAP distinctive I changed the palette, especially in the border.  I love birch, it is my favorite tree, and over the years I have collected books about crafting with birch, and various artifacts made from birch. I have Lapti, plaited shoes from Russia you can see in THE TURNIP, ornate layered birch boxes also made in Russia, and carriers and vessels made from Native Americans.  Splendiferously I had an old copy of INTERIORS magazine (I never throw them away), that has a photo shoot displaying China in a quaint setting of shelves decorated with old newsprint cut in serial geometric shapes kind of like paper dolls, where you fold the paper, cut the design, then open in up. Instead of using newsprint, I used birch bark with the pink side out. If you find a piece of birch bark it is hard to decide which side is more gorgeous, the papery, white exposed outer bark, or the interior shell pink side. Well I chose the pink because I’ve used the white in other books like THE MITTEN and HOME FOR CHRISTMAS. The rest of the border is knitted stitches with Nordic patterns, some of which I kept from Danish Museum trips when I went years ago for THE HAT to give the book a cozy feel.
One of the changes I’m making in my art, is to make it a little more crafted. It is a bit of a reaction against the use of technology and computer art, which I accept is its own thing, and possibly a new art form, but I feel my work is a continuation of the art style of Beatrix Potter.   It is a little hard to explain, but I feel that painting each stroke in a picture over time gives the art a soulful quality.  I read once that in some cultures, I think one is Navajo, and another culture is Middle Eastern, that when creating a weaving or perhaps beadwork in the Native American art, the artist intentionally flaws the design in a subtle way to show their humility. I think all artists grapple with the perfection and extraordinary beauty of the world around us as we try to create art.
Good Luck with your endeavors and creations!

Your friend,
Jan

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July Hedge a gram

blog

In Okinawa Japan with my grandson Brian

Happy July!

Although summer time usually includes a vacation for many, for me, I am gearing up with the illustrations for my new book. This July it is THE MERMAID AND THE THREE OCTOPUS. Every month I pause for a time to talk about where I am in the process of my book in hopes that you may share my interest in creating books and drawings for children.
What I’ve accomplished so far is a retelling of the classic Goldilocks and the Three Bears story, and I’ve created cartoon-like illustrations in a 32 page book dummy. I completed the dummy and then went back and reworked the ending, changing the images after completing the first version. I wanted a final spread showing the mermaid with her new and old friends swimming away through the beautiful coral reefs. But to get the full effect of the undersea gardens I wanted a double page spread. The book actually ends on a single page. For the last page, page32, I show a happy ending for the octopus family, especially baby octopus who after a big commotion and confrontation finds herself with a gift from the mermaid, a beautiful pearl and coral tiara. The beauty of working on a dummy is the ability to change things when they become clear In the language of pictures, before too much time is spent on the finished spreads. I make the dummy with typing paper cut to about 2/3rds the size of the trim dimensions in the actual book. The trim size is one of the first things I, the editor, and the art director, decide on. Since I have done two “Goldilocks” books in the past each with a different trim size, I chose a size that would leave room for my border idea. In the original story the three bears go for a walk while their porridge cools. In my undersea version they go for a stroll but the baby octopus is unhappy because her parents make her wear a peculiar and she thinks, ugly, hat. In the borders she tries to lose the hat. That makes it an especially happy ending when the baby octopus ends up with a gift from the mermaid, a beautiful tiara. I find that children enjoy a little humor and I am hoping they will think its funny that the baby octopus is given a live hat.
I have always loved porcupine fish. They remind me of ocean going hedgehogs. It seemed natural that the mermaid would be traveling with a friend, and that the friend could move the story forward by prickling the grumpy octopus. I had to walk a fine line between making the octopus mad by having their things eaten and played with and just being curious. The funny looking porcupine fish makes the scenes kind of funny. I have a reference book called FISHFACE and it is full of very expressive fish faces, although its anybodies guess what the fish are really thinking. I have been to the New England Aquarium twice since starting my book, and it is easy to get lost in the world of fish in the central tank, and in the reef fish exhibit. Sometimes I am amazed I have a job where its important to look at fish! The trouble is like iridescent birds, it’s impossible to capture their beauty. I have an invitation to see the aquarium’s octopus from the aquararist’s side but a date hasn’t materialized yet. I have seen Anna the octopus twice from the public’s side, but she is remaining very shy. Apparently octopus have very individual personalities, and for now, Anna is settling in. I’m very glad I saw a baby octopus in the wild in Okinawa while snorkeling. It was right beside a baby Lionfish. That is a beautiful but venomous fish that lives in the coral reefs in Okinawa. When reading the hard to find but wonderful A DIVER’S SCRAPBOOK by John Chandler he remarks that if a sea creature does not move away from you, ask yourself, “Maybe it doesn’t have to?” Luckily when I went snorkeling my son in law gave me booties and gloves along with the advice not to poke anything.
The fun part of painting the illustrations is reliving my underwater experiences, although they were fewer than I would have wished, knowing what I know now. Two of the adjustments I have had to make are how everything is almost weightless, as in the mermaid’s hair and how almost every view fades into deep blue. The other adjustment must be utilized in painting the fish. Almost every fish guide show the fish from the side, while in reality they are seen in all perspectives. Add to that, many sea creatures are iridescent and some, like the octopus change color and shape plus some are see-through!
Because I set my story in Japan I am very glad I lugged back lots of big colorful books about that culture. My story is set in the olden days, so I rely on art books too. On the twelve or so trips I’ve taken to Japan I have brought back toys, antique printed indigo cloth and folk art. If anyone has visited Japan they will recognize lots of references to Japanese culture. The octopus wear kimonos and Okinawan hats (except for Baby). Even the seashells and coral shards found on the beach I brought home have found their way into my pictures. Even if the child knows nothing about Japan, it is nice to think their frame of reference has widened a bit. I think that is why as a child I loved reading THE JUNGLE BOOK about India, ALADDIN AND THE MAGIC LAMP about Persia and THE STORY ABOUT PING set in China.
Happy armchair traveling, or even better, the real thing!

Your friend, Jan Brett

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June Hedge a gram

Lucasville OhoAt the Lucasville, Ohio Poultry Exhibition

Happy June,

This is the time I stop every month to write some tidbits about my life as a children’s author and illustrator. If you know of me at all, you know that the illustration part of the process is the creative engine for my books. I am an avid reader, and I marvel at the level of nuance and creation of other worlds that authors can create. It never ceases to be a miracle that someone else’s mind can be seen via their books. And all the time, we readers are receiving those words and believing them or not believing them. It is so deeply satisfying when a writer’s words ring true and allow you to see a part of humanity, or part of the animal kingdom that has never seen the light of day in one’s own mind. I am reading the autobiography of Oliver Sacks, an author who’s work I deeply appreciate. The first book I read was THE MAN WHO MISTOKE HIS WIFE FOR A HAT. Sacks was a neurologist who described in an eloquent and loving way some of the bizarre mental conditions he has seen in his practice. One of my favorite books he has written though, is OAXACA JOURNAL, a book about a trip he took with the Fern Society. Anyone who goes to Mexico with the Fern Society to see ferns is walking an unusual path. I love ferns, but have never gotten further then buying a few books about them, planting a lot of varieties, and putting them in every book I can!
But Oliver Sacks always thinks in great depths about a subject. This last book though is rather shocking as I had him pictured as a curious, sedentary, friendly uncle type. He has a quote at the beginning of his book that was written by one of his teachers when he was of a young age. “Oliver will go far, but I hope he doesn’t go too far.” It reminded me of a similar remark a teacher made about a relative, “All geniuses are odd, but all odds are not geniuses”. Human being have such a large capacity to explore a subject, and let it become their whole world. I’ve known a few geniuses in my life and it is really interesting how they manage to come up for air when engrossed in their field of interest.
I am just finishing the first spread for THE MERMAID AND THE THREE OCTOPUS. We moved up to our summer camp (cottage) and I got to look through all the coral shards and shells I collected in Okinawa, Japan over the last 20 years. My daughter and her husband who are Marines were stationed there three times. Little did I know way back then how much my heart would be captured by that place and that in the future I would set a book there. A year ago I was snorkeling at one of the incredible dive sites where I saw a baby Octopus. By now it is probably huge, or been eaten by another sea creature. I love to sit at my work table and recreate my memories of the ocean there. I was astounded that so many people video tape their spear diving excursions. It’s as if you are swimming through the coral reefs as you watch YouTube. Of course I have to close my eyes when they spear the fish! I am in absolute heaven working on this book. The experience is going to get even more emotional when next month I will visit the New England Aquarium and visit their Giant Pacific Octopus. If you are curious about the natural world I would suggest THE SOUL OF THE OCTOPUS by Sy Montgomery. She has also written a children’s non fiction book, a companion to it called THE OCTOPUS SCIENTISTS.
Joe and I just drove from Massachusetts to Lucasville Ohio to a Poultry Show (not a fair) and for some reason an idea popped into my head about a house hedgehog. A friend, who I gave a chicken to, made the chicken into a “house chicken”. It watches TV with them and is a pet. I got thinking about how Hedgehogs hibernate and never are able to see the depths of winter. I love winter and all its beauty, so I’d like to write about a Hedgehog that gets taken in for the winter by a little girl and gets to see the loveliness of snow through the window. Obviously fiction but a great way to to paint winter scenes and especially a Hedgehog!
I hope the changing of the seasons is invigorating for you, and ideas pop like popcorn for new creative projects.
Your friend, Jan Brett

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April Hedge a gram

the_three_octopus_mermaid_sketch

The Three Octopus – Mermaid Sketch

Happy April!

Every month I spend some time gathering my thoughts about some aspect of children’s bookmaking that I think might interest others involved with creative projects. All my books have been picture books. It is the form that involves the most illustration, which is what I love best.
A children’s book is a commercial project, and although I don’t think of my books quite in that way, it is important to know that I work with a publisher. When I think of a book idea, I discuss it with my editor. The editor makes the decision about if the idea fits their list. My publisher,Penguin Random House has been publishing my books for over 30 years, so they have a good idea of what to expect.
I became entranced with “mer-creatures” after visiting an elementary school while giving a school talk. The children had drawn pictures of mer-cats, mer-dogs and everything else you could possibly think of. At first I thought of doing an undersea version of “Old MacDonald had a Farm”, with the gardens being coral and sea anemones, but I didn’t feel it carried enough emotion for me. I work on a book for an entire year, and I try to find a story that will be fascinating, and keep me hopping for a full year and beyond. The curiosity and quest to understand somehow bubbles up through the artwork and makes it come alive. One of my favorite stories ever is Goldilocks and the Three Bears. I’ve always felt curiosity is the trait I admire most. I feel it overreaches into all cultures and times. When you are little, so many things you do are being done for the first time. Learning to skate for example, or staying overnight at someone’s house, eating certain foods,you name it. No one can promise a perfectly positive experience, but most of the time the experience is worth it. That bit of knowledge is exciting and makes us feel energized.
When I attempt a new book, first I will write out the story. Sometimes I have an idea for the borders, a little subplot that can add another dimension to my story. Often I’ll just begin and a second story will just make itself known, like a knock on the door. There is the Fed X man with a package, only the package is a new idea. In my undersea Goldilocks I thought that the baby Octopus (the three bears are Octopus in my story) would be made to wear a hat by her mother which she doesn’t like. At the end, the hat, which on closer inspection is a spotted ray gets set free, and the Goldilocks/mermaid gives her a beautiful Tiara. I’ve always loved coral and pearls, so the Tiara will be fun to design. When I was little I wanted a horse desperately, so I drew horses everyday, including the barns they would live in, fancy bridles and all the trappings. It was a very good second best. That’s what the Tiara will mean to me. There is a little childhood memory that is about the wearing of hats too. As children,we had to wear hats and gloves to church and to any trip to Boston, like when we would go to shop for back to school clothes. My sister and I loathed the hats. We sort of accepted a Scottish “fore and aft” hat with ribbons down the back and a pom-pom on top, but we were both tomboys and did not like being dressed up. In later years the “hat” was softened to an embellished headband which we barely tolerated. Many of the seemingly random ideas in my books have strong personal memories associated with them. The wearing of hats seems very funny now, but I think every child understands that feeling.
When I’m constructing my story, I am looking for a “down the rabbit hole” experience. After drawing and painting the dummy in a deliberate way, I am really just waiting for that moment when the story takes on a life of its own, and I loose that deliberate self consciousness. If I can let it happen, strange and resonant ideas will come like a visitation. It’s a very fragile thing and the least criticism or intrusion can break the spell. Sometimes I feel like I’m on a tightrope in the dark, not knowing what will come next. I tell children that telling a good story is equal parts preparation, a little bit construction and another part like digging for fossils. I love it when after I’ve finished a book I’ll realize with a start, that its a retelling of some significant event of my childhood.
Many artists and writers say they feel like they are a taken on a wild ride by their work, and in the best of times I can say I feel that way too. A great story or piece of music has a feel that it has always existed, curious as that might be, like Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Although I don’t aspire to that level, I like to feel its a wonderful thing to at least give the creative force a chance to do its magic.
I hope all of you will find that moment when an idea takes you for a wild ride, and you take the leap to see where it leads you.
Happy Reading, your friend,

Jan Brett

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March Hedge a gram

with_brian_in_okinawaWith my grandson, Brian, at Maeda Point in Okinawa, Japan

Happy March,

I am getting started writing and illustrating a new picture book. It’s based on the story of Goldilocks, the curious little girl who, finding a mysterious house in the woods, lets herself in. After trying three bowls of porridge, three chairs and three beds, she falls asleep. She is woken by a family of three bears who are equally curious about her.
Several of my interests came together to form the idea of an underwater Goldilocks. First, I have always loved the story because curiosity is one of the human traits that take us into the unexplored, and challenge our intellects. As children, almost everyday we are doing something for the first time. Children learn quickly that no one can guarantee a perfect experience, but having tried something new, it’s almost always worth it. It is how we learn.
My daughter and her husband have spent ten years living on Okinawa Island, a tropical Japanese island in the East China Sea. When I have visited I was charmed by the culture and architecture and wildlife. Because the island is fringed by coral reefs, many explore the wildlife in the ocean which is famous for its diversity and spectacular tropical beauty. Although I have never scuba dived, the snorkeling allows amazing glimpses into the rich marine coral gardens teeming with fish and sea creatures. When my granddaughter and grandson began snorkeling with their parents at six and three, I joined in and saw this undersea world through their eyes. On the east side of the island, the land underwater plummets down to great depths, and it is there that the Giant Pacific Octopus and Giant Squid have been seen. The first live Giant Squid was filmed only several years ago. When an occurrence like that happens along with sightings of other strange creatures like the Dugong, a large sea mammal, a Whale Shark, which is a peacefully beautiful but gargantuan shark, one’s imagination can’t help but conjure up what could also live in those unexplored depths.
Even though, I don’t believe mermaids exist, I do like to think they have a place in our imagination and in literature, along with Unicorns, Satyrs, the Phoenix and Centaurs (my favorite).
So now, I have a story of a mermaid who like Goldilocks explores a curious house, only hers is under the sea. It’s not three bears that live in it, but three octopus, surely one of our earth’s most fascinating creatures. They are highly intelligent, resourceful, change color and have eight arms complete with cheerio like suckers.
Even though they rank among one of the hardest creatures to draw for me, I am excited to learn all the ins and outs of the octopus. Hopefully, often the excitement of capturing an amazing animal will show in my artwork, and make my story even curiouser. It will be a chance to revisit beautiful Okinawa in my mind as well.
I hope you find creating stories, either by writing or illustrating as unexpected and fulfilling as I do, especially when parts of the experience make up a strange mix, just right for storytelling.
Best wishes, your friend, Jan Brett

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