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