Archive for category Jan Brett Posts

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


August Hedge a gram


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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July Hedge a gram


The Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, South Dakota

Happy July!

This is Jan Brett with my monthly hedge-a-gram, the time I take to let you know what is happening in my book world.  Since its our country’s birthday, I’d like to thank all of our service men and women in the Armed Forces, and their families. I have a son-in-law and daughter in the Marines. I know how hard our military works and about the changes their families make in their day to day living. My husband and I are very grateful. When I raise the flags in the morning I remember you all and send good vibes as best I can, and remember our service members lost and those wounded. Happy Fourth to all the Marines and Air Force on Okinawa! My daughter and her family live there currently and we are looking forward to visiting once again in September.
Since my last hedge-a-gram my husband and I took 9 days to travel from Boston to LA in our all electric Tesla, following a route where we could charge up at the ultra fast chargers. In South Dakota we stopped at The Mammoth Site in Hot Springs. My imagination has been in overdrive every since. We happened to stop there because one of the scientists stopped by at my book signing last fall and very generously gave me his book ICE AGES about the era when many of the skeletal remains of the animals were found. His book is fascinating, and is non fiction but reads like a fascinating story. Also paradoxically, it is scholarly and a well researched addition to world knowledge, but any nature lover or child 3rd grade or up I suspect would find captivating. I can’t wait to send it to my 4 1/2 year old granddaughter and 2 year old grandson. They will be fascinated by the great photos and illustrations.Illustrations! That is a subject I have more to say on. Many letters and emails I receive concern “how to get an idea for a book?” Often a compelling idea will start the process. This museum, which I would highly recommend is built right over the site where 25 years ago while excavating for house lots, a giant tusk was unearthed. Experts were called including Larry Agenbroad the author of ICE AGES. It was so skin prickingly, goose bumpyingly riveting to see these perfect skeletons. There was even the scull of the short faced bear (now extinct). I am enamored of the Wholly Mammoth, I think because if its long hair and vaulted scull. All I could think of is bringing these creatures back to life in my illustrations. When I was on a long run yesterday I was musing back to our trip to Botswana, and visiting Jabu, Marula and Thembi, three semi habituated elephants that live in the bush with their partners Doug and Sandy Grove. If you go to Chiefs Camp it can be arranged to go and visit them for a day and have a lot of personal time and learn about them. I remember being fascinated but slightly wary of the elephants. They were highly intelligent but quite mischievous and full of themselves. They appeared to me unlike any animal I’ve spent time with. Like horses,dogs or cats. Probably the closest to them are whales and dolphins that I admit I only know about from my reading. The elephants have very species selective behavior and many behaviors relating to their hierarchical social structure. It couldn’t be too much of a leap to make Woolly Mammoths into characters given the large number of animals that have ancient counterparts for example the Przewalski horse and todays horse, the Auroch and our cattle, the Wolf and its ancestor the Dire Wolf. Also everybody’s favorite the Smilodon or Saber Toothed Cat. And people lived at the same time. On my long runs I’ll be thinking of a plot worthy of all these great characters. I’ve published a children’s story a few years ago called THE FIRST DOG. I was fortunate enough to experience an exhibition at the National History museum in NYC called Bright Visions. It focused on art created by early man. I feel every molecule vibrate when I see this art first hand from the elegantly carved ivory from 40,000 years ago depicting animals that radiate spirit to the rock paintings and petroglyphs I’ve seen in Namibia and Zimbabwe.
In the meantime, I am totally emersed in the world of a Russian Badger family and their friends in my retelling of the TURNIP. The artwork is coming alive and I love revisiting all my Russian books that I bought in St Petersburg for CINDERS.
In keeping with our 4th of July celebration I saw a magnificent Bald Eagle yesterday. I was coming home from my run when I saw he/she heading straight across our lake toward my chicken house. The chickens are all safe in there nice outdoor pens with roofs .On the subject of wildlife I heard a flock of crows screaming their heads off in the woods.When I went to investigate a young fisher-cat scampered across the forest floor and hiked itself up a big pine tree which was a big effort for it because it would hike up a foot make a double grunt and then look around at me and the crows with its cute triangular face. I think I spotted the mother tearing across our walkway yesterday. I’ve seen the adults on my runs and they are definitely not cute or charming, especially when I know they have an eye on my chickens and ducks. I must recheck the hardware cloth on their pens.   Happy creating and reading! If you’re in South Dakota check out The Mammoth Site for a fun and profound experience.

Your friend Jan Brett


June Hedge a gram

The Animals’s Santa

Happy June!

It’s June, and I’ve just come back from the United State’s largest book fair, Book Expo in New York City. I saw my 2014 children’s picture book, The ANIMALS’ SANTA for the first time. I was very impressed with the printing of it. The pages seemed to glow and the images looked almost three dimensional. That’s because my publisher oversaw the printing and made sure the quality was top notch. I hope you agree when you see it next fall in bookstores. The advantage of working for an excellent publisher, is that the art department is the best. It is responsible for the art direction which includes the design of the book – especially of the jacket, the display type of the jacket, and the type. Not only does Marikka contribute her talent, but I feel her energy and love of design very strongly, especially after working for a year on the interior of the book and I’m tired.
It’s fun to go into a bookstore or library and become aware of how much jacket design informs what is inside a book’s covers. One of my favorite jackets was for The Goldfinch, a novel by Donna Tartt. The jacket illustration imparts mystery and intrigue, the novel’s ties to the art world and the beleaguered innocence of its young boy protagonist. My jacket shows a young snowshoe rabbit, shrugging its shoulders as if curious but questioning. Marikka chose a display type that suggested old fashioned signage that makes the viewer feel that the story would journey back in time.
Today my husband and I traveled to the Finger Lakes region of New York state for a poultry show. There is always an area where people sell their chickens. As we were perusing the area we saw a group of baby bunnies. Among them was a little boy bunny that looked exactly like Little Shoe, the main character of my new book. After much discussion we bought him, and he is ours. I hope we can provide a loving home for him.
I have several pages finished of THE TURNIP, my retelling of a Russian folktale, and I can’t wait to dedicate my time to this challenge. I love painting the wonderful Russian old fashioned clothes on the badger family and on the mother bear character. When I went to Saint Petersburg three years ago. I brought back a suitcase full of books about clothing, architecture and crafts from the last century. I have the books propped up all over my art studio. It will be my most colorful book ever, although now that several pages have been done, I’m backing off on the bright colors of the borders as they compete with the main story a bit.
Recently I visited the school my sister Sophie teaches at in Hollis, New Hampshire. I was once again taken by how much the children loved to draw, and how much they wanted to learn about it. Sometime the only thing between a person and a wonderful drawing is just making the time to do it. It’s a good ambition, and one I have as a goal for myself, making artwork!
Happy reading and creating, your friend,

Jan Brett


May 2014 Hedge a gram

     With my doublebassist husband, Joe Hearne, our son Sean and his wife Catherine in the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Bejing, just before concert time

Happy May!

This is Jan Brett and this is my May hedge a gram, the time I take to tell you what’s happening in my life as an author/illustrator.  I’m in China right now traveling with my husband, a double bass player in the Boston Symphony.  The orchestra will perform in three cities in China, then Tokyo, Japan and afterwards we will stop in Okinawa, Japan an island far to the south, to visit my daughter and her family.  I will visit historical sites and try to absorb as much of the culture as I can, in hopes that a future book idea will happen.  I have done a book set in Guilin, China, DAISY COME HOME, starring a little girl who loses her pet chicken.  Guilin is a particularly picturesque part of China and a wonderful place to set a book.  The mountains, which out of the earth like jagged teeth are covered with green and look like silhouettes of animals.  The Li, or crystal river, is home to cormorant fishing.  The fisherman pole bamboo rafts out onto the river with a flock of cormorant, duck like birds that are trained to dive for fish and bring them to their master for a reward.  Although the fishing is now mostly staged, it makes one feel like you are back in the olden days to see it.

I’ve just spent weeks on my letter to children about my latest book, THE ANIMALS SANTA, I call my news notes.  It tells tidbits about the book which will be out next fall in time for Christmas.  We will send out 80,000 of my four-page full-color letter to friends and also have it available to download online.  I usually try to make one page an interactive activity and because it’s a Christmas book, the last page is a Christmas card I created for my friend’s use.  It can be downloaded and copied at your local copy shop or used as it is.  The idea behind my book is that people have a Santa, but how about the animals?  My answer is “Yes!”  In a remote village in northern Canada a group of animal friends find mysterious presents on Christmas morning.  They think they could be from Santa, but no one knows for sure until snowshoe rabbit sets a trap.  Santa is a snowy owl, and my card is from him.  I imagine people sending it from their pet, to their friend’s pets.  Or, if you don’t have a pet, it could be sent as a whimsical Christmas card.  Usually I use a somewhat simpler art style, but because the card was intended to be used by my friends, I use my best effort and employed my “book style”.  I’ll have it up online in plenty of time for the holiday season.  The project took a long time.

Because I spent so much time on my news notes, I’m now trying to catch up with the current book, THE TURNIP.  I set the book in Russia, in the area around St. Petersburg, where I visited two years ago to do research for CINDERS.  I will have to spend some of my time painting in my hotel room during this trip, instead of sightseeing, so I can at least finish one page.

I have loved the turnip story for years, but is unique because in Russia much of the fun is in the telling.  The names of the different characters rhyme and make the word a tongue twister.  Since my English counterparts are not tongue twisters, I had to create a new surprise element to keep the story lively.  As the animals, in this case badgers, line up to pull the giant turnip out of the ground, a bear’s den lies underneath.  In fact, the giant turnip has taken up the Bear’s bedroom!  Can you guess what event will finally unearth the turnip?  Hint, the bear wants that turnip out of her bedroom!

So far, I’ve written the text and have just received some samples of the type, both of which I love.  But one stood out as having just the right qualities to enhance the artwork.  It’s slightly old-fashioned and European in quality, but if letters could evoke humor these would.  Marikka Tamura, the designer at my publisher who I have worked with for many of my books, is responsible for finding some interesting choices of type.  She will send me my story in the new type face and then it’s my job to leave room for it in my artwork, which is harder than it sounds.  Artists are notorious for wanting all the page space for their art!  In the end though, I think illustrators love the look of type and art together and that is one reason why we choose this medium, a children’s book.

I have my book dummy that I use as a guide as I work on the finished pages.  It’s my favorite part of the process, and I tried also tried to leave a little mental energy to bring new life to my pages as they are transformed from the cartoon-like book dummy.

Signing off from Asia, your friend, Jan Brett

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April 2014 Hedge a gram

Hedgie and Jan Brett greeting the students at
Oakview Elementary School, in  Simpsonville, South Carolina.

Happy April!

This is Jan Brett and this is my April Hedge a gram.   It’s the time I take when I stop my work on my book, take a breath, and try to communicate what I’m doing in my profession.  When I was young, I desperately wanted to be a children’s book illustrator, and I wanted to know what it was like to live that life.  I’m hoping that by describing all the activities we’re doing, it may give some insight to future artists, writers, and teachers of children’s literature.
I am in beautiful Greenville, South Carolina, at the historic Poinsett Hotel.  Yesterday, I spoke and meet all of the children at Oakview Elementary School.  This school won the school and library visit contest last year.   The Upcountry History Museum in Greenville is having an exhibit of artwork from fifteen of my books and last night my husband Joe and I went to a reception.   It’s a fascinating museum specializing in the history of Northwestern South Carolina.  The museum mounted not only my illustrations, but also a superb collection of student artwork from Oakview School.  Two pieces of art from the student’s exhibit were given to me.  They will have a place of honor in our house.  The children used some of my techniques, such as using details, and borders and animal characters.  Then they took their art to another level using interesting mediums such as torn paper, and collage and metal work plus their own soaring imaginations.  It was very inspiring for me to see such talented ingenuity.  Please, please, please, take some time to create your artwork, or write down your thoughts.  The world becomes a vibrant and exciting place when one is surrounded by creativity and beauty.  I spoke to every child at Oakview School and asked them about their interests.  Almost every child not only had a creative interest, they loved reading but also did a sport.   When I asked them what their dream vacation would be, I was impressed by how many want to go somewhere exciting and interesting and different.   And answers were as varied as Hawaii, Miami, Russia, India, China and Dubai.  I felt I was among kindred spirits because I have found travel has helped me create my books.
My school visit to Newfoundland two years ago, definitely influence my decision to set my fall 2014 book, THE ANIMAL’S SANTA in northern Canada. The animal characters are from northern Canada, Arctic Fox, Porcupine, Moose, Lemmings, Red Squirrels, Snowshoe Hare, and Snowy Owl.  The borders are inspired by Native American Porcupine quill embroidery that I first started collecting on a trip to Canada.  I’m currently working on my newsletter to children about how I got the idea for my book.   It includes descriptions of the beautiful first people’s native embroidery.  The letter tells about the Snowy Owl, which remarkably was very visible in my area of Massachusetts this winter.  The Snowy will travel southward when the Lemming and Snowshoe Hare populations are sparse.  We even had a Snowy in the next town to us, Scituate.
I have done one page of my 2015 book, THE TURNIP and have sent it to my editor to see.  We are still working on the manuscript because it will be set in an appropriate typeface and I will know how much room to leave in the artwork.  When I first send the page, it is always a bit of a wrench because we are still trouble shooting at this point.  I have to steel myself  for  any criticism and be honest with myself and be open to the fact that the criticism might just be right.  I say this because it is easy to think a book just flows like a fountain of creativity and there are  no mis-steps.   I have an editor who I really trust and I also listen to my husband, Joe, who although he is a musician has very straight forward and helpful opinions.
It turns out that my school visit has come at a perfect time, because after seeing how much Oakview School strives for excellence and has succeeded, I want to do so as well.
Have fun being creative and keeping up the high standards we all so admire.

Your friend,

Jan Brett

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March Hedge a gram


Happy March!

I am turning cartwheels with enthusiasm about starting off with my latest book project.  Every month, I tell about what is going on in my life as an illustrator, I call it my hedge-a-gram, and this month is unique because I’m underway with THE TURNIP.
My contact with my publisher is for a children’s book every year, this yearly work cycle is really ingrained in my mind, since this is my 36th book.  What I really would like to express is how powerful and confirming a creative project can be.  There always hurdles, and it is easy to be impatient, but the rewards are like nothing else.  Please give it a try.  I’ve always struggled with the irony that my most satisfying way to tell a story is with drawings not with words.  For me words tap into another world where a story carries you, and I wish I was an inspired writer.   I’ve always been incredulous when after reading a work of fiction, I feel I’ve been in some of the places described, and that the characters are alive somewhere.  I don’t feel the magic when I am writing as much as when I’m drawing, I wish I could.
It doesn’t matter how you are creative, but that you use your imagination in some medium.  It may be that with all the knowledge children are learning in school in order to do well in tests, it will be up to the parents and friends to encourage kids to write fiction and draw and paint.  My sister, who was taught for as long as I’ve written books, says in 2014 children are still bursting with creative ideas.  I don’t doubt her. Sometimes a big success for a child, say actually writing a small book or creating a poster can resonate later and lead to more and more creative projects.  I remember in high school I illustrated GREY’S ELEGY IN A COUNTRY CHURCH YARD for a favorite English teacher.   I hope there will be time for this in the classroom, but if not it’s good to carve out some time at home.
I was once given a beautiful, simple carved wooden toy from Russia of three people and a bear pulling a turnip out of the ground.  I thought it was charming and I remembered the story it went with, THE TURNIP.  The premise, of finding a giant vegetable really tickles my fancy.  I have an acquaintance who grows giant pumpkins, over 900 pounds, and I’ve been to the pumpkin patch.  “It could happen”, I said to myself.
When I traveled to St. Petersburg, Russia, 2 years ago to do the research for CINDERS, I had in my mind that I would like to retell and illustrate THE TURNIP in a few years.  Although we passed through farmland on the way to Novgorod, I didn’t see any small farms like we have in New England.  Instead I relied on the Russian Museum of Ethnography and their vast collection of books about life in the olden days.  The clothing and buildings in the old villages were very artistic and colorful.  The printed cloth fabrics of the garments were lovely and each one, with its trim and embroidery seemed a work of art.  I knew I would be very happy to paint the combinations of color and design, especially when a turnip would be the central image, purple and yellow.
My Russian family in the book are European Badgers.  They are rolley, comical, strikingly colored animals that cry out for a story behind their mischievous expressions.  From what I’ve heard and seen on the Internet, they are naturally playful and social.  The other main character is the Russian bear.  In my story she’s a mom with her hands full getting her cubs into their den to go to sleep for the winter.  Unbeknownst to the badger and friends who are trying to pull the turnip up, beneath them underground, the turnip has grown into the space that would be the bear’s bedroom.  When mother bear gets fed up, and gives the turnip the one two… The animals topside are in for a big surprise.
I’ve taken quite a few folk tales and given them a new twist in past books.  My husband, Joe, who is a classical musician, often plays works that are theme and variations, or reworking of an older piece of music by a master.  My favorite is Brahm’s Variations on a theme by Haydn.   I think I feel happy using this device in my picture books because my grandfather, William Thaxter was a great storyteller.  Every time he told a story he embellished it in a slightly different way.  We children loved listening, and even if we knew the end from before, we reveled in the telling.  For me, that’s something to aspire to.
Happy storytelling in your own special way, your friend,

Jan Brett

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February Hedge a gram

blogThe Animals’ Santa Endpapers

Happy February!

I’m greeting you this month with lots of positive thoughts. You may already know that every month I take a snapshot of my work in progress – a children’s book, but also the many other activities that go along with it. I have just finished THE ANIMAL’S SANTA and the original art will be on its way to the printer in China to be scanned and printed in a test run so it can be color corrected by the art director. I am always urged to be timely, so bound books will be ready for Book Expo where I’ll be signing in May. The folded and gathered copies will also go out to the Penguin sales force to be shown to book buyers. We are also blocking in dates for next fall’s book tour.
I have such mixed feelings about sending a book off. Number one thought is I’ve still got so much more to add and polish. I’m always reeling with the litany of fixes and corrections. And I have to listen to them all because sometimes they are right (this is my editor and art director) and sometimes they save me when I have lost my concentration and reversed the stripes on a character’s sweater for example. It’s really unprofessional to have inconsistencies in the art, and language as well for that matter. Throughout the year that I’m working on the book I am constantly trying to get the images right, the best that they can be. But the danger is, that once I’ve experimented with let’s say a costume change, I have to go back and change all the images of that character. This sounds logical, but I definitely have bursts of creative energy that I want to utilize, and doing the simple changes is time consuming, and I would rather use that feel good time to work on the more important aspects that key into the nature of the story. So the menial changes get put on the back burner.
For the last three months I’ve been working more intensely on my book as the deadline got closer, and here’s another dilemma. When it comes to time management, I just work on my book. My husband Joe is very supportive of this. But, if I work super intensely, the downside is I don’t get to run when I can clear my head or put my mind in another place like at a Symphony concert to gain perspective.
The other difficulty is criticism. If at the beginning of a project, there is too much criticism, I feel like my book is getting sullied, and I get mad. So its better if I have a longish period to work on my own until the story firms up. But then I have a momentum going and I find it unproductive to listen to the criticism then. If I wait to almost the end, then I may have to change other elements as well because I’ve gone in a direction that’s not working, then the back sliding is discouraging. Because of technology, I can complete a page at midnight and send scans to my editor and the art directors for them to see first thing in the morning the next day. I am still working on this one. I need large tracts of time without negative input.
Happily, the day I sent off the end papers, with mistakes corrected, I started writing my 2015 book THE TURNIP. It’s based on a Russian folktale that is sequential. People all try to pull a giant turnip out of the ground. In the original Russian the fun of the story is that the word for turnip in Russian rhymes with Grandfather, Grandmother, etc. so it makes it into a tongue twister. For years I’ve been trying to find an element that would replace the tongue twister fun with something just as appealing, preferably in the borders. I finally figured out what that something would be, when on one of my runs I imagined a bear entering her den for her winter deep sleep and finding the root of the turnip in her bedroom. She gives it the boot, and all the characters topside are amazed when it comes flying out of the ground.
Even though it sounds a little intellectual about the choice of this story, my main reasons for retelling it is that I can paint the turnip, with its purple/magenta top fading to cream, and then to a marigold yellow. And, ever since we visited the Museum of Ethnography in St Petersburg, I have wanted to paint the everyday rural dress, including the woven birchbark shoes, tools and carved farm implements I saw there.
When I was visiting our friends Gudrun and Elof in Sweden on the family farm I was fascinated by the badger dens. I never did get to see one, only one badger’s pelt. But the European Badger is a very unique looking animal, perfect for a children’s book character, with a mask like our raccoon and a big black round nose. I can’t wait to draw them all, and I am starting on thumb nails. Then I will revisit my first draft which has been given a thumbs up, then on the the dummy. I brought suitcases full of books back from Russia, and although I can’t read most of them they have lots of pictures of exactly what I’m looking for to create my scenes. So I am in the blissful, excited part of my book process.
Good luck with all your creative endeavors,

your friend,

Jan Brett

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January 2014 Hedge a gram

animal_santa_page_10-11The Animal’s Santa

Happy January!

It is wonderful to be writing in my art studio with almost all of my new book, THE ANIMAL’S SANTA, including the jacket, up on my bulletin board. It takes up one wall of my room, and like most picture books, there are 32 pages. Once I finished the last page I can go through all finished artwork, color correcting the backgrounds, and making sure all the character’s clothes and details are consistent.
I love how the snowy setting matches the 2 feet of snow outside my window. It makes me think back to last summer when the hot weather, green leaves, and hummingbirds at the flower boxes made my winter scenery seemed very far away. In a way, the last month I work on my book is the most fun of all. I have a deadline so I hole up in my art studio, and say “no” to almost all other activities. One of the challenges of being an illustrator that works from home is the constant interruptions that a normal life brings, but that are not easily put off like if I were in an office somewhere. A gorgeous Flicker woodpecker just came to my studio window where there is a bird feeder. That’s a perfect example of why I wouldn’t want to trade my work place.
I’ve been reading Ann Patchett’s new book of collected essays, and I felt all my inner bells chiming in sympathy when she described her writing process. I highly recommend her essay which is a response to aspiring writer’s questions on how to begin and work.
While I’m working, my mind has been drifting back and forth to book projects I have to choose from for next year’s book. The day after I sent in my final page of art, I begin writing my new story. I have vied back and forth between a gingerbread story and THE TURNIP, a Russian folktale and finally decided on THE TURNIP. I have a really good idea for the border. This will sound silly, but I raise chickens and every year I bring up about 60 babies to adulthood. They get colored leg bands so I can keep track of who’s who, but they also receive names on a theme. That way, when the ones I keep for myself grow old in my mixed flock I’ll know how old they are by their name. For example, my hen Sugar Pie is from the year I created GINGERBREAD FRIENDS and Thule is from the year I did THE 3 SNOW BEARS. My hens went broody early this year, so I had to give them hatching eggs to set on. Those babies will appear in 3 weeks so I better be ready with names! I used every Russian name I could find for CINDERS, so I’m trying to think of another category for them that will relate to THE TURNIP and I’ve crossed off vegetable names. I don’t want chickens named Potato and Brussels Sprout!
I’m always enthusiastic about new beginnings, and ways of improving myself, but this year I haven’t come up with a New Year’s resolution. I think now that I’m thinking about it, my goal for 2014 will be to use more color in my new book. THE TURNIP is the perfect place to start because number 1, it is set on a farm in rural Russia in the olden days, where brightly patterned clothes were worn, and number 2, turnips are the most beautiful of vegetables, with golden yellow bottoms and pinky purple tops! Maybe I will name my chicks after colors.
Good luck using your imagination and storytelling to create a unique story this January!

Happy Creating,

Jan Brett


December 2013 Hedge a gram

ANIMAL_SANTA_Page_28_29 Animals Santa Bunnies sketch

Happy December!

This is Jan Brett with my monthly update on my book illustrating I call my hedge a gram after my favorite animal the hedgehog. I’ve just come back from my national two and a half week book tour. If you joined me on one of my stops, thank you from the bottom of my heart for being there. I so enjoyed my interactions with all of the dedicated teachers and librarians as well as the families that came and brought their children. I have a very isolated profession, and I spend hours and hours working on my books. Our children are grown, so it is a great pleasure to see so many children excited by books and love drawing and writing. I’m always stunned by the explosion of incredible artwork I see on my tours. When children bring me their drawings, I’m often in awe about our innate artistic ability. I hope that when I do my drawing lesson at the signings, everyone goes home feeling they would also like to draw and color. This tour was a little different because I brought four of my chickens, ones that starred in the book I was signing, CINDERS. They were on TV four times! Cinders, my silver Phoenix pullet jumped right out of her box when it was time to present her to the assembly! She really like showing off! It was fun having the chickens on the bus. When Joe and I finished our evening signing, we would stop to buy a takeout dinner, which we would eat on the bus, and then Cinders would come out of her box and socialize. There is nothing like riding on a beautiful bus with a cozy chicken riding on your shoulder. They had an exercise pen so they had nice outings on green grass almost every day.
I’m back to working on my book set in northern Canada, THE ANIMAL’S SANTA, although I’m doing it in an unexpected place, Thailand. We are visiting with our daughter, her husband, and two grandchildren who live in Okinawa Japan. Our Thailand trip is our holiday time to be with them, although I will work on my book every day. I’m on the last few spreads of my book which is due in January. The jacket art has been completed, but we are in talks with my publisher’s art designer and my editor about the display type. The display type is the sometimes fancy lettering that forms the book title, and is done, not by me but by a very talented designer who works at my publisher.
I’m also thinking about next year’s book. I may do a gingerbread baby story, unofficially called THE GINGERBREAD DANCE, in which I give the wiley gingerbread baby another chance to outwit his arch enemy, the hungry fox. Or, I may retell THE TURNIP, a Russian folktale that I have always loved.
My thoughts return again and again in appreciation to all of you who have come to my signings. I’ve had the rare opportunity to see children from many parts of the US with their amazing artwork in tow. It is especially electrifying to not just to see ability and talent, but some of the children bought their unique vision to their art work which is like a miracle of creativity to me. My dearest wish is that children experiment and enjoy their creative skills, and make it a habit that will stay with them their whole lives.

Happy Creating,

Jan Brett

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