June 2009 Hedge a gram

Goose Pond walkway

     Books have inspired me since I was six, bringing on a jolt of excitement of a previously unencountered world.  When we want to revisit the feeling of a far away place, or just admire the nuances of the cultural mix from a favorite book, we walk from room to room in our hunting style camp in the Berkshires.  Our house sits on a hillside strewn with huge tumbled rocks overlooking a moon shaped lake.  It is a large scale, and the landscape tempers the divergent themes inside, as does another constant – the honey colored pine walls, floor and ceiling.  Every room has Persian carpet, many from a favorite antique rug store in nearby Great Barrington and they also connect the rooms.  
   The whimsical romance of Edward Lear’s poem THE OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT inspired the images and colors in the master bedroom.  The poem which I illustrated in my children’s book in 1991 was set in Martinique in the West Indies.  After a research trip there, I framed the historical postcards of the island and used the tradition plaid of the woman’s dress on the bedspread.  In my book, I used shells to decorate  the borders and I assembled a mirror using shells I collected as well as miniature sailor valentines for their color and wonderful textures.  The fireplace is in
use in spring and fall for breakfast and on cool nights when the antique owl andiron’s red eyes glow.

Goose Pond Africa

  My husband, Joe and I have traveled to Africa seven times, with three children’s books in mind, NOAH’S ARK in 2003, HONEY, HONEY, LION! in 2005 and 3 LITTLE DASSIES slated for 2010.  The master bath’s shower curtain is Mali, or mud cloth – antique ivory elephants passed down in our family for three generations and a collection of hand carved and clay guinea hens, and baskets from the Okavango Delta decorate the tiny rustic room.  One of my paintings of the wildlife in Botswana, a “camp” portrait of my husband Joe and photographs of the African birds we see on safari are on the walls.   After a trip to China with family member Yun Li for DAISY COMES HOME we came back with a huge vessel that inspired a needlepoint cushion for a pew handed down from my great uncle, Harold Brett, a portrait artist and illustrator who worked on Cape Cod in the 1930’s.  Family lore says the pew was from one of the oldest churches on the cape, that was destroyed in a storm. 
    The expression “toys in the attic” has always intrigued me, and the loft bunk room above the living room has become a repository of children’s
toys and carved wooden animals from all over the world including some of the characters from my books, like GINGERBREAD BABY.

Goose Pond driveway island

Favorites are from the island of Hokkaido, Japan where my bass player husband, who is a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra traveled on
tour.  Carvings and Japanese fabric are infused throughout the house from eleven BSO tours, but the Japanese temples and gardens we visited in Kyoto may be the biggest influence.  The first sight to greet us in returning home is a Trompe l’Oeil island set in the circular gravel drive.   Once a pancake of annuals, the garden was designed and built by Gordon Haywood.
     Huge lichen covered granite boulders were planted to depict a craggy mountain island, blue green sedum cascade through a rift between them and into a pool where darmera mimic water plants under a lead sculpture of a great blue hereon – the heron is a common visitor to our lakeside and is our totem animal, since my husband Joe’s last name is Hearne. 
    The house was built in 1994 by the local Carty family who have lived in the Berkshires for generations.  I have acollection of antique beaver carvings that salute their craft – theyworked under the name, Beaver Builders. Our lake which is surrounded by preserved tracts is connected by a small canal to a wilder lake and the Appalachian Trail.  In some years, when I kayak up the lake I pass a beaver lodge where I’ve heard the beaver kits inside mewing for their mom and dad.
    The small guest house is decorated with Victorian fish plates I collect, and were used to serve  smoked trout when we entertained the musicians and Tanglewood fans with a quintet playing, THE TROUT, by Schubert.  Two of our children had wedding festivities at the house andour guest house served for in-laws and friends, as well as for friends for Tanglewood weekend.   One of my favorites pieces is a mid 1800’s painted armoire from nearby antique nirvana Cupboards and Roses.  The kitchen has a trio of hen paintings from my children’s book featuring chickens – there are three, HEDGIE’S SURPRISE, DAISY COMES HOME, and GINGERBREAD FRIENDS.  I didn’t have far to go for my models, I have a flock of 50 exhibition bantam chickens, Silkies and Polish.  Their barn, the third building on our seventeen acre property may be the only chicken house in the neighborhood with portraits of champion poultry, painted by their owner, me.  There is stunning competition in the Tyringham Valley one half mile down our dirt road where antique farms and homesteads haven’t changed much from the eighteenth century.  Our house reflects themes from my books, and one character Hedgie the Hedgehog appears in all of them.   One of the baths has hedgehog art – ranging from lithographs to my own artwork in Victorian rustic frames. 
     Sometimes the tables are turned and the Berkshire hill where we live hands me a idea I can mine for my books.  The beautiful birches that surround our porch gave me the idea to frame the illustrations in THE MITTEN with birch bark – which gave way to a collection of birch bark items.  I’ve scrubbed cast off rolls of birch bark found in the woods to make mats for some of my paintings, wound birch bark around pillar candles and found faux bois china and pottery that looks right at home in our forest.  A collection of leaf plates, some antique, and some fun pieces are playful additions to our table.
    When I’m asked why I illustrate children’s books, I say that children are a great audience because the line between reality and imagination is so easily crossed.  When architect, Jim Kelliher, designed our hunting camp we asked that it melt into the woods with hand peeled great logs and the indigenous stone worked throughout.  Like the imaginative children I write and paint for, our house skirts the border between past outside travels and memories and our working life.  I paint the birches outside my window, and the birds hear my husband’s bass playing!   The “hunting” part of our hunting camp refers strictly to idea hunting from troll’s caves (across our road), bears which are frequent visitors, to pond turtles – all future book material!
  1. #1 by Jan Brett on June 11, 2009 - 1:43 am

    Thanks for your note. Since making books is my profession, my answer to “how long each book takes” may seem complicated. The idea for a book might go half finished for years. Another way to describe it is a puzzle with a few pieces missing. When I find the pieces – it’s full steam ahead. Then I write the story in a few days. Doing the final artwork is the best part for me, I always look forward to working on my new book.
    The Oshkosh, Wisconsin Art Museum just finished an exhibit of my artwork. There will be others in the future. I’ll post them on my website. Thanks for asking.

  2. #2 by Susanna on July 18, 2009 - 5:02 am

    I absolutely love your work and now admire your life too!! I am now in the process of writing a children’s book, nonfiction. You are so talented… I’ve used your books in my classroom for years to teach all sorts of themes and just to show children the pure pleasure of reading. I know this question is different for every book but on average how many times do you edit your work before sending it to your editor/publishing agent??

  3. #3 by Denise Cleary on December 16, 2009 - 2:15 pm

    I purchased Jan’s “Mitten” book and decided to fill a mitten with
    the small stuffed animals mentioned in the story for my granddaughter. I could not find a badger. A toy company
    could do this a lot more cost effective and might be an adjunct
    sale to the book. Idea for you????

  4. #4 by deena fairfax on December 29, 2009 - 3:28 pm

    Can I purchase the stuffed animals from the book “The Mitten”?

  5. #5 by Jan Brett on December 29, 2009 - 11:22 pm

    Folkmanis has many high quality stuff animals. They may be able to sell you animals from THE MITTEN. Thanks for the question. Jan

  6. #6 by Judith (Stillman) Miller on December 30, 2009 - 3:36 am

    Greetings from a former elementary school classmate from Hingham, Mass.I remember you when you had long blond braids and loved horses. I remember your class notes always had beautiful drawings in the margins. I am so pleased that you have used that early artistic gift to become so well known and accomplished.I have many of your books and have read them with my children and grandchildren.Holiday best wishes, old friend. Judy

  7. #7 by Susanna on January 11, 2010 - 11:31 pm

    @Denise Cleary
    Actually- I hadn’t thought about that but you just spurred an idea… though a book like this might take a long time but something to the effect of using Jan’s books in Science would be something that would be an awesome addition to any professional library!! I know there are a ton of books out there but often I find they are just filled with worksheets but I like what you did for your granddaughter and it made me think of all the activities I have done in the classroom using Jan’s books… They lend themselves so nicely to science so often, complementing nature so well.

  8. #8 by rosemary medina on January 19, 2010 - 5:03 pm

    after reading the three snow bears my preschoolers build igloos using “building puffs” (mini marshmellows). it was a great activity for fine motor and counting practice. my class loves all the Miss Jan Brett (as the children call you) books and we read one a week during january. this year we will continue into february.

  9. #9 by Uiara on April 8, 2011 - 4:10 pm

    Great works and very resourceful! I truly enjoyed reading your great post. You obviously have natural writing ability and you can beautifully present it to the readers!

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  10. #10 by Brent M on April 14, 2011 - 3:07 am

    Hi Jan – what an enveloping read you blog is – I love all the various titles of your books. Reading some of the other comments here certainly proves how fond people are of you and wonderful works. Loved the pic of Hokkaido too – glorious. Thank you and best wishes. Brent M

  11. #11 by susanne on December 12, 2012 - 6:19 pm

    deena fairfax :
    Can I purchase the stuffed animals from the book “The Mitten”?

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