This is Jan Brett telling you about what’s happening in my life as an author-illustrator of children’s books.
I am halfway through my 2014 picture book,WHO IS THE ANIMAL’S SANTA? I love working on the finishes, and embellishing my original ideas and adjusting the text to enhance the story. It’s probably my favorite part of the process. The art takes a long time, and there are many steps backward when I decide to change the character or adjust the color of the skies for example. There’s a great deal of pressure from the publisher to get my book finished in a timely manner, but I don’t want to rush and miss an opportunity to make the book better with a different image idea.
My book is set in northern Canada, and the animals show the winter coats for which they are known – the Arctic Fox, Lynx, and Snowshoe Rabbit especially. In my book the animals exist in a tribe culture and their natural predator-prey relationship is suspended – it being Christmas! I wanted a neutral element to construct my borders like the Birch bark in THE MITTEN and HOME FOR CHRISTMAS and I chose quillwork, a native American, or first people’s art that uses porcupine quill’s to create designs on clothing and ornaments. I have collected quillwork boxes over the years, because of their beauty, and have designs of feathers, a great blue heron, chickadees, of beaver, a star and the four directions. When I researched these designs, I was struck by how the art of the first peoples is often story driven and how the image contains a strength focused from the artist’s mind. I’ve always loved stories and storytelling and it’s not only my job, but is the way I stay connected with my humanness. I love to think that generations before me created images that gave them beauty and significance and how they have lasted for hundreds and even thousands of years. I’m about to visit my granddaughter in Japan where she lives, and I’m already thinking of stories to have on the ready when she asks. Some of them are from my childhood and I love to think she is included in the family’s history by knowing them. Like the time Madame our cat stowed away on our sailboat, the time we were not allowed to swim off the boat in the ocean and then two huge fins swam by. The time I ran away, because I didn’t want a splinter taken out and got into big trouble. The time Richard our golden retriever brought home a wallet and money blew all over our backyard. Now that my granddaughter’s four, I’m hoping she’ll have some stories for me. When my daughter was growing up we had a read aloud time every night, even until she was in junior high school. I remember WATERSHIP DOWN, GONE WITH THE WIND, and M.A.S.H. as being great favorites. Communication between us was meager during that time, and books were great life-raft for informal chats.
My sisters are a little dubious about my stories, and I admit a good story takes precedence over the facts. I would even go so far as to say sometimes a story takes on a life of its own, and the teller goes along for the ride. Our minds are complex and rich and we never fully aware of what they’re capable of sending out.
Your friend, Jan Brett