Archive for category Jan Brett Posts

January Hedge a gram

gingerbread_christmas_christmas_tree_page_finished

GINGERBREAD CHRISTMAS

Happy January,

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!

Jan Brett

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November Hedge a gram

Gingerbread Christmas

Gingerbread Christmas

Happy November!

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!
Happy reading,

Your friend, Jan Brett

 

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September Hedge a gram

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We’re in Lucerne, Switzerland today. Joe’s playing tonight at the Lucerne Festival and I am working on my research for next year’s book, GINGERBREAD CHRISTMAS. This is the Chappel bridge at the edge of Lake Lucerne.

Happy September!

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

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June Hedge a gram

cello_sketch

Gingerbread Christmas Cello

Happy June!

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!

Happy reading,

Jan

 

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April Hedge a gram

Gingerbread Christmas ~ Horn

Gingerbread Christmas ~ Horn

 

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

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March Hedge a gram

trumpet_sketch

Gingerbread Christmas Trumpet Character

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,

Jan

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January 2015 Hedge a gram

Japanese SerowJapanese Serow

Happy January!

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.

Happy reading,

Jan Brett

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December Hedge a gram

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On our way home!

Happy December!

I am writing from my book tour bus. We are going across the country in a beautiful “star” coach that is arranged by my publisher. We have 24 stops starting in New York State and finishing in Washington State. I have our bunny who is the main character in my book, THE ANIMALS’ SANTA aboard. His name is Little Snowshoe, and although he is a domesticated bunny, one half dwarf and one half dutch, he looks like a Showshoe hare in that his coloring is similar, pure white with black tips to his ears and a darkening on top of his little bunny nose! He is a boy, because I wanted to reflect my character. He is sweet but can be grumpy and is definitely mischievous like my character. Today he had the run of the bus, but he can’t be left alone for a minute or he will chew our computer cords. He is smart enough to know if there is an opportunity to do so! He loves to climb onto our laps and explore any chewing opportunities. He has lots of delicious smelling hay and a few treats like just for bunnies dried papaya and fresh basil leaves. He also has chewable rabbit toys made of wood, bark and rope.
While not at my signings, I am pondering the book I will start in January. I have one idea about a Gingerbread Baby Band that is also a fox love story. I love the Gingerbread Baby’s personality of pep and creativity. My other idea is about a Wooly Mammoth, but I need to work on the plot. I go to sleep thinking that I will wake up with a good idea. When I speak at the booksignings, I answer my most asked question. How do you get ideas for books? It’s somewhat like looking for shooting stars. First you have to be looking upward into the heavens at night. It must be clear. Some nights are just right for this activity because earth is passing through a comet’s tail or meteor showers are predicted, like the Perseus meteor shower in August. Sometimes, though quite out of the blue I’ve seen a huge, bright meteor that lights up the sky and leaves a florescent white/yellow/green trail. That’s how it is with book ideas.
Sometimes I am excited by an incident involving my pet animals, or I am intrigued by a fun fact involving animal biology. A few of my stories are a version of a story I’ve loved since childhood, and I wanted to illustrate them my way, like THE GINGERBREAD MAN. I never liked that the mischievous little guy was eaten be a fox, so I switched things around in my story. I often work on ideas when I’m running practice runs, they are often three hours long. My daughter thinks ideas get juggled around and fall into place like a jigsaw puzzle. That’s stretching it, but no doubt I have gotten some good ideas running. My husband Joe, plays the double bass in the Boston Symphony, and I have honed many an idea listening to music. I rarely get ideas watching TV, movies or on the computer, I think those forms capture too much of my attention.
Good luck with your story ideas, and embellishing the things of this world that fascinate you with stories.

Your friend, Jan Brett

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September Hedge a gram

little_spoo400Little Spoo our pet rabbit

Every month on the first, I stop what I’m doing to be in touch with all of you who are interested in the profession of an author illustrator, or anyone who is curious about how children’s books are made. It is highly individualized, and perhaps that’s why I am so intrigued by my work. Not only does every author have their own approach, but it seems like every book I do is different.
I am almost half of the way through the finishes for THE TURNIP, a Russian folktale that I have retold and modified a bit. At the moment I am coming back from a week in Okinawa, Japan where I was visiting with my daughter, son in law,  and two young grandchildren. I did bring some artwork with me to do at odd moments and during breaks in the travel. I need to use every minute available to get my book done on time.  Because of my very detailed style it takes me at least a week of steady work just to complete one page.  Sometimes I even bring a page in the car and paint as we travel, but I only work on simple designs.
Okinawa is a beautiful tropical island in the Japanese archipelago where the ocean is never far away. We took advantage of  the nice weather and water conditions to do some snorkeling. There are accessible coral reefs everywhere and it was wonderful to see the colorful reef fish, sea creatures and coral. The big excitement for us that day was a giant bristly maroon hermit crab with teal spots, teal being one of my granddaughter’s favorite colors.The kids have seen an octopus, a colorful moray eel, a lionfish and some brightly colored sea slugs. Another highlight was a huge baby blue sea star. Okinawa has one of the most celebrated aquariums in the world, and it was quite something to see many of the creatures in the wild, and then be able to take a closer look in the aquarium, besides seeing some of the rarer creatures such as their two beautiful whale sharks. The whale sharks are graceful and stunning with their milky white ventral side and blue dorsal side with a white tic tac toe pattern that is unique. All I could think of was the incredible beauty and variety of the color patterns. It made me feel daunted but inspired too.When we got home I drew some of the fish and my granddaughter, Torynn colored them in. I am on the lookout for a set of the sparkley gel markers which will help the fish look more realistic. Nothing can really capture their beauty.
I am looking forward to being home and doing my artwork full time, although I will miss my family. I can’t wait to see Little Snow the bunny we got last June. Kim, the woman who takes care of my chickens when I’m away, has kept rabbits for many years, and Kim and her son have been giving Little Snow lots of attention while we were away. He will probably be going on the book tour with us.
When I reflect on my job, in some ways it seems so simple.I sit down with a big piece of paper and paint. But the results are all a part of my experiences and time commitments. I don’t think I’ll ever figure out a formula for how much time and effort I should spend with all my loves and interests. One thing is very important to me though, I greatly look forward to meeting all the book lovers that will want autographed books on the book tour that will be coming up this December. My husband, Joe, and I were thrilled at how many readers have entered the Lunch on the bus contest. We’re looking forward to that chapter of our lives!
Happy Reading, drawing and creating,

Your friend,

Jan Brett

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August Hedge a gram

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Happy August!

I’m Jan Brett, and this is my August Hedge a gram – my letter to friends named after my mascot, Hedgie.
I was recently asked by Scholastic to name my favorite teacher and draw a picture of he or she.  My favorite teacher was Mr. Anderson who taught us English literature in high school.  I drew a picture of Hedgie to personify my affection and gratitude for Mr. Anderson.  He would read aloud for hours from great works of literature, from Moby Dick to the plays of Shakespeare to poems by E.E. Cummings.  He was forthright and funny and thoughtful just like I imagine Hedgie.  Hedgie also serves as my alter ego.  When I write my newsnotes for each new book, Hedgie often makes an appearance.  His role is to make sure I don’t sound like a know-it-all.  One of my least favorite character traits!  I got thinking about what a useful role a side-kick or alter ego character is.  It’s a great way to liven up a story and give it a different perspective.  I am currently illustrating and retelling a folktale, THE TURNIP.  It’s pretty straightforward and simple.  In Russia where the story originates, the fun comes with the character’s names which form a tongue twister as they are repeated as the story progresses.  Since I’m writing in English and couldn’t use this device, I put a little rooster character in the story to make it interesting.  He is looking for a new home because he was being chased by someone looking for dinner.   When he appears at the farm where the turnip is being pulled out of the ground, he is the last one to try.  It’s funny to see the rooster go flying thought the air with his beak holding the turnip top. In the same painting you can see that a hibernating mother bear has just jettisoned the turnip from below.  I’ve always liked stories that have a curious twist –  in THE MITTEN the bear sneezes the lost white mitten into the sky where Nicki can see it.  In THE TROUBLE WITH TROLLS, Teeka escapes with her dog on skis, because the trolls don’t realize the skis enable her to schuss away.  Normally the way I  know a story is ready to become a book is when I figure out a curious twist in the plot that will solve a problem.  One of my favorite ones I’ve never illustrated.  It’s an Aesop’s Tale about a thirsty crow.  He comes across a jug full of water that he can’t reach even with his long beak.  He solves the problem by dropping pebbles into the jug.  The pebbles displace the water until it rises to the brim and the crow can quench his thirst.
On my husband Joe’s and my road trip across the country in June we stopped in Hot Springs, South Dakota to visit an amazing mammoth site museum.  I’m fascinated by the animals that lived in the Pleistocene and I would love to write a book about a mammoth.  I’m hoping I can find a good plot idea to make this happen.  When I saw the incredible, tusked skeletons of the mammoths at the Mammoth site, my imagination covered them with fur and made them do all sorts of elephanty things.  Baby elephants are the cutest ever.
Right now, I’m immersed in my badger family that populates THE TURNIP.  Besides the Badger family my story has a hedgehog, goat, rooster, and horse character.  Luckily, on my run route, I pass a farm that has a pasture with three rams.  Now that I carry my cell phone on runs, I can take photos that will give me character studies for my book.   They are similar to goats I saw in Russia, and I can combine the body language of the “Berkshire” goats that live near us with the physical characteristics of my Russian goat photos.  It makes for an interesting to do list.
Good luck with your writing, drawing and creating.

Your friend, Jan Brett

– Lastly, we just got a mockup of the design they will put on our tour bus this year for THE ANIMALS’ SANTA.  the bus tour is planned for late November and I’ll be posting all of the dates and cities soon.

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