March Hedge a Gram

Spring is in the air!

This is my March hedge a gram , and as I get underway with my new book, it strikes me how the rhythm of creating books is both familiar and exciting. I still feel slightly amazed that the new book is taking shape, even though I've written nine and retold many others. I think the hardest thing to accept, when I first started writing books for children, was the frustration when all the pieces of my story didn't fit. Now I have confidence that when I keep pushing I'll succeed. I know young authors are reading this and this message is for you - keep trying!

After our trip to China in January, I spend about five weeks writing my story, Happy Hens, and developing a book dummy or cartoon version of the story. I decided what shape the borders would take and what the trim size of the book would be. Have you noticed that some books are long and thin, others tall, and some small enough to fit in your hand? Well, the illustrator gets to decide what shape best reflects the story inside, and that's called the trim size. I like to feel that when someone opens my book they can walk inside, so my books are pretty big. But I don't want them to be overwhelming to a young child either, so they can't be huge.

In my book dummy, the characters and landscapes take shape as I draw them. I rely on my memory mostly, especially for a setting as far away as China, but sometimes I'll refer to photos that I took or brought home in books. As I tell the story, I think about what I want to see - a close-up on one page to show how charming and characterful the happy hens are. Then I might show a scene of the whole county side as if to say, "These are nice little hens, but my they live in a big wide world. What will happen?" It's important to create tension in a story. Don's be surprised is you see horizontal lines as the story unfolds and wild angular lines when it becomes exciting. Some of this is created by the expressions and gestures of the characters. Colors have meaning too, and I don't even what to think about analyzing what comes naturally because it's too much fun to just draw. The little girl in my story wears strong, cheerful colors that match her personality. Children in China wear bright clothes and the hard part was settling on the final colors and patterns with so many exciting choices.

Back to my book dummy! I took all my drawings and pasted them into a thirty two page book. I miscounted and made it thirty four pages! So now I'll have to take out two pages someplace. Most illustrators would never make such a mistake - all children's books are 32 pages, but I got carried away! I'll be able to fix it. I sent the dummy to my editor, Margaret, and my art director, Cecilia. After they've had a few days to look at it, I'll fly to New York City and spend the day discussing it, just like your teacher does with your work. They'll tell me what they like and what they think I can improve. Instead of a gold star, they'll take me to lunch at a restaurant. Guess what we'll talk about? Books, books, books!

In my April Hedge a gram I'll tell you what I learned. Maybe in that time you can tell me about your story's progress - remember - only you can tell the story hidden inside you! Good luck and have fun.

Bye for now.


Jan Brett