Archive for category Jan Brett Posts
In Okinawa Japan with my grandson Brian
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
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
The Three Octopus – Mermaid Sketch
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,
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
Happy New Year! I am hard at work finishing the last pages of GINGERBREAD CHRISTMAS. As I do every month in my hedge-a-gram I’m taking some time to be in touch, and tell about how things are going in my life as an illustrator – author.
Every year I have to work extra hard to finish my book before the deadline in mid January. Even though the book won’t be published until next fall, the artwork and the final text must be ready now. Although working faster doesn’t help, I can put more hours in every day. To put the most optimistic perspective on it, perhaps small daily decisions I make painting the art work are easier, because I know I don’t have time to change my mind, and do something over. The designer at the publisher will need my artwork finished so she can set the type on the pages, and together we can change the text to accommodate any places the art has infringed on the area assigned to the type. Hopefully there won’t be any!
Probably the best part of this time is seeing the whole book up on my bulletin board. I can correct for balances in the color or gauge how the art reflects the story. For example, one double page spread shows the old cast iron stove. Its black color really dominates the page and looks a little heavy. I will go back in with white gouache, an opaque watercolor paint and change some of the large areas to dark grey, over-painting on the white gouache, as if it looks like it is in sunlight. There is another area showing the garland covered bandstand. I deepened the green to make it look further away and more remote in contrast to the close-up of it when the gingerbread band plays. I may also feel Gingerbread Baby’s rascally character needs to be amped up. I wrote a taunting little song for him to sing and I will see if I can fit it in. The wiley trickster is a character found though the world’s folk tales and myths, and that’s how I see the Gingerbread Baby in my story. I want him to be funny and loveable too.
As I work, my thoughts go back to the long November and December book tour. It was very tiring because I wanted to do my best job on my presentation about THE TURNIP and my drawing of Badger Girl I did for the audience. At first, after the signing I would curl up on the bed at the back of the bus and not wake up until we were almost at the next signing. After a few days I got my equilibrium and it wasn’t so overwhelming. I so much enjoyed seeing the children’s artwork and the families that hold reading and books dear – more so that ever before. I don’t have an answer for the cause, if it is because book lovers are rallying and devoting their time to books because electronics are so popular, of if people are accepting there are many ways to tell stories and books can’t be replaced. I was excited to see so many vibrant libraries with many in the town or city involved with them.
Probably the most surprising happiness is when a family tells me they’ve adopted a quote from one of my books into their families playful at home dialog. I see myself as more of an artist so it makes me feel proud to have my words take on a new life.
My two Dutch Bantams, Reuben and Rilke, a rooster and hen behaved beautifully during the tour and my show and tell at every stop. They were on TV three times and twice I sat with them on a white couch. The couch stayed pristinely white, I’m happy to say! They were mailed home from California, after the tour, Express Mail! They travel in a special cardboard mailing box with lots of air holes covered by special filter paper. They got lots of treats and they seemed perky and peppy when I opened their box when they arrived home, although the postman said Reuben was very vocal in the mail truck. I don’t now if it’s my imagination, but my chickens do seem to sense when we are nearing home when I take them home from poultry shows.
When I’m working the long hours during the race to my deadline, I listen to audio books and the radio. I have really enjoyed Edmund DeWaal’s book, THE WHITE ROAD. I am a big fan of THE HARE WITH AMBER EYES, by DeWaal. Both books talk about obsession among other things, a subject I like to contemplate. My other favorite is THE OLD WAYS by Robert Macfarlane. The book tells about the paths and trails on land and sea of the British Isles.
I also heard a wonderful interview of Stephen King and I was launched into a soaring state as Stephen described the writing process, because his words ring so true. His book is called ON WRITING, I highly recommend it to anyone who feels writing is their calling, even if they do it in pictures, like I do. I wanted to end with that “hats off” to Stephen King, because I hope you too feel that wish to create as we enter the New Year – always a good time to access our goals and life paths.
Happy New Year!
This is a busy month for me in my life as a a children’s author and illustrator. My deadline for this year’s book is coming up in late December, so every day I am painting the finished spreads. I want so badly to create a certain look for the pages. I accomplished this some of the time in the two previous Gingerbread Baby books. The idea that this cookie comes alive is whimsical but he is fragile too. I do want the surrounding gingerbread and frosting to make it feel like it is from this strange world – a little bit old fashioned Switzerland, a little bit a funny gingerbread character who is a little rascally, and very snowy, wintery and festive place. The activity mostly takes place outdoors and the white snow makes a nice contrast with the orangey brown of gingerbread. I have a giant bulletin board and I put the finished spreads up so that whenever I walk into my art studio, in the morning sun just getting up, or late at night, I can gauge the mood the book projects. Sometimes the colors will seem too heavy or just the opposite, not substantial enough. Then I will try and adjust them by changing backgrounds or even subtly changing the shade of green. Because each page has a decorative border, I can add details that are fun or curious in their own right. Each window in the border is shaped like the musical instrument, the double bass. It was a natural to choose because it’s a beautiful shape perfect for outlining a scene within the story. My husband, Joe plays the double bass in the Boston Symphony and I hope he thinks it is funny that the bow is a peppermint stick and the musical notes are jelly beans. I tried not to use very modern candy like candy corn or name brand candy bars, because I would like my story to go back in time. Thanks to the Internet, I found that jelly beans were invented in 1861 in Boston by Mr. Schraft. There is also a confection that was similar, popular in France that has been enjoyed since the 1600’s. The idea being that the outside is a certain hardness while the center is soft and chewy. I used to experiment often making candy when I was a teenager. I loved heating the sugar and seeing it harden in a glass of cold water in order to find out if it was in the correct “stage” that signified it was time to take the candy off the stove. It was always “molasses pull candy” out of the Joy of Cooking. It was a big hit, but difficult to clean up!
The most intriguing candy that I find very hard to find, are lollipops that have a picture formed by the different colors. The picture is usually of a flower, a fruit, or an animal face. I used to always find one in my Christmas stocking, but haven’t seen these lollipops in a long time. When I was in Europe especially Switzerland I was hoping to find some beautiful old fashioned candy, but I saw mostly the same offerings we have in the States. I did love to see how powdered sugar was sprinkled over a stencil to create a design on a darkish cake. My mother loved making soft, chewy and dense gingerbread cake, and she used a paper doily to create a design with the confectioners sugar. I used that technique for a little variety in my borders, using paints of course. I wish I could turn back the clock in order to open up the box of Christmas cookies my mother-in-law, Meta Hearne, would give us at Christmas. There were many varieties and you couldn’t choose just one, they were too tempting. My favorites were always, the thumbprint cookies with brilliant red jam, intense and gummy from the cooking.
Besides the art being in full swing, I am starting to plan for the eighteen day cross country book tour. We pack up the bus Thanksgiving night. I’ll be bringing markers for drawing demonstrations and an easel. A fun show and tell will be my birch bark shoes from Russia that are just like the ones my badger characters wear in THE TURNIP. I have to chose some special clothes for my talks. I want the children to notice the colors I’m wearing and connect them with my book. Hopefully they will use my ideas in their own ways to help them to create their drawings and stories. I will be bringing one of my models, but it is a secret for now. I also will pack my art supplies and special lamp that shines with a full spectrum bulb so I can work on GINGERBREAD CHRISTMAS on our days off. When the bus is moving though, it’s too bumpy to work, so I have a little vacation and I do needlepoint – I’m making a purse, and a knitting project – a Fair Isle sweater by designer Alice Starmore. The yarn is from The Hebrides Islands and is very beautiful. I will also bring some books, particularly about poultry genetics. I raise chickens for show. The color patterns of chickens are carried in their genes and it is difficult for me to understand. My solution it to keep reading the books and looking at the photos. I’m hoping sometime in the middle of the night my unconscious will go “click” and I’ll wake up understanding. All chicken colors come from only two color pigments, black and red, White is the absence of pigment, but some colors are diluted, so you can get grey, brown and orange.
I’m excited to meet all the book lovers at our stops. It is very uplifting to meet children that love to draw and communicate with their creativity Next month, I’ll write my “Hedge-a-gram” from the road!
Your friend, Jan Brett
The children’s book I am working on, GINGERBREAD Christmas is set in Switzerland. A few years ago I traveled to Zermatt to do research for the setting for GINGERBREAD BABY And GINGERBREAD FRIENDS. I’m back, in Lucerne, Switzerland, looking in bookstores for books about the traditional clothing “trachten” for the many children that I will imagine for the book. At the concerts I have been going to in this part of Europe many of the elegant ladies are wearing their dirndls, and the men, traditional jackets.
In my mind, my story took place in the not so distant past, and certainly a time when gingerbread cookies could come alive when the oven door is opened too soon! So there is a large amount of fantasy as well. Many Swiss towns look unchanged from the olden days if one edits out signs, cars and telephone wires! This is especially true when wandering through the “old town” section. Many restaurants will be filled with antiques and be made of stone hundreds of years old. We loved one called THE SWAN that overlooks Lake Lucerne. Old fashioned metal steamships, I think now outfitted with diesel go back and forth. My favorite has a beautiful wooden gilded rooster on its bow. In the center of Lucerne a covered footbridge crosses the Reuss River. Its covered with flowers in summer and greens in the winter, and it is charming with its carved wood beams and railings. To top if off, when you stroll across, there is a tower completely surrounded by the river in the center. I painted a shorter version in my book, and reimagined when I created THE GINGERBREAD BABY.
The hunt is never over for the kind of details that will make a book seem grounded in my version of reality. One other source for inspiration are the many bakeries with windows bursting with fanciful concoctions. Many of the cakes are of a distinct style for example “king’s crown torte”, Lizentorte ( flavored with raspberries), and many others. I have 16 double page spreads in my book and each is decorated with swirls of frosting. I hope to find a cooking book with old fashioned designs at one of the antique bookstores.
Most of the cities have a Christmas festival, and I was lucky enough to travel to Germany in December. There are hundreds of stalls where Christmas decorations are sold, many of them handmade. My favorites are the colored glass birds with silken tails, and the one’s created from straw. Whenever I find a bird’s nest fallen to the ground where it could never be used again I bring it home for our tree and perch one of the glass birds with silken tails on it. the second to last page of my book will have a huge fold out decorated Christmas tree where the Gingerbread Baby hides. I can’t wait to start painting it.
One of the images I carry back after a trip to Europe is people carrying their small dogs about… in knapsacks, in the backs of bicycle even at the tables in restaurants. The dogs seem very happy about it. I have been making notes on all the dog transporting. So far my favorite was the double lidded basket with the dogs head peeking out and looking very interested in the world. Most of the dogs have been different varieties of Dachhunds and Jack Russell Terriers, and some fluffier breeds that I’m not sure of. I promise you they will end up in my book. They will definitely add a little tension because dogs would love a bite of a gingerbread!
Although I have completed my book dummy I still have time to add things to my book. Because the element of time is so important – the magic only happens when Mattie doesn’t wait the full eight minutes, I thought it would be fun to put some magical looking cuckoo clocks on the end papers. Those are the decorated papers that attached the signatures (sewn pages) onto the cover and back. Many artists like the end papers to be a solid color, but recently I have been painting decorated ones.
Happy writing, illustrating and creating,
Your friend Jan
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,