April Hedge a Gram

 Happy April!

     This is Jan Brett with my April Hedge a gram. The time I stop to give you an idea about what I'm doing as an author and illustrator.  Since childhood I have wanted to be an illustrator and I like to think my illustrations told a story -- it came naturally to me and was fun and it energized me. Writing was different, it wasn't something I did in my free time, although I love to read. When I first brought my portfolio around to publishers hoping to get a job illustrating a picture book, all of the editors I saw encouraged me to write the story myself. My first attempt was FRITZ AND THE BEAUTIFUL HORSES which I wrote for my six-year-old daughter who was taking riding lessons. I set the book in olden days and was inspired by a pony, John Steil, who live where she took lessons and an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art called the Hapsburg Era. Many books later, book ideas come from inspirational crossroads. First my editor Margaret who I have worked with for 20 years and knows how much I love my flock of chickens, suggested I retell and illustrate CINDERELLA. She has chickens too and we love to talk about what a cast of characters they can be. Joe, my husband of 32 years and I both had children from previous marriages so the idea of the horrible step-sisters and mother in the Cinderella story made me squeamish. I decided to soften the stepmother part and made the characters more silly and bossy than cruel. Joe and I had been planning a trip to St. Petersburg to get ideas for a future book, a retelling of THE TURNIP a folktale. Every time we tried to plan trips to the farms and countryside, the Russian guides would change the focus back to palaces and museums. Thatís when I decided to set my chicken Cinderella in St. Petersburg too. Because I love snow and the North, I would have      Cinderella the chicken go to a ball in a snow palace modeled after the onion domed wooden architecture of the region.|
     Now, that Iíve got a story written, it wasnít as difficult as I thought. I'm doing a lot of long distance running and I puzzled out much of my retelling on my runs. Also having a beautiful Phoenix cockerel showing off in my barn every day added to the fun of making up the story. His beautiful coloration and flowing tail feathers made my mind race with ideas for a formal Russian uniform with lots of gold braid and smart buttons and epaulets. Iíve got a new stack of books with photographs of Russian style dresses which are very colorful elegant and extravagant and I can't wait to dress up my Phoenix hen in one. I don't know how I'm going to stand the wait until our trip in June, although now my turtle book is off to the printer, I have more time to do some of my favorite things, go to Boston Symphony concerts, raise baby chicks - I have 25 under hens or in an incubator, and especially visit my 2 1/2-year-old granddaughter. We love to paint in read books together.
     I am a little sad to have finish MOSSY, but with the spring weather the turtle pond we constructed for the book is coming to life. Some of the large 3 inch tadpoles have sprouted back legs and the cattails have been growing about 1/2 inch a day. There are lots of teeny tiny tadpoles and I'm expecting frogs and turtles when we get a warm stretch. Spring is my favorite time of year, and this year feels even more like a new beginning than usual because I'm bursting with enthusiasm for CINDERS my new book. I would like to encourage you to find a writing and/or illustration project that will jump-start your creativity.
     Happy reading writing and drawing, your friend.

Jan Brett