This is Jan Brett and I would like to catch you up on what I'm doing in my
life as an illustrator and author. I have written, retold and illustrated many
picture books for children, but the way each book imagines itself is far from
routine, and I wouldn't want it any other way! I usually have three or four
book ideas in the back of my mind. I have a big desk drawer where I keep photos
and sketches of animals, places or buildings that might appear in some form in
the books. I have two books coming up that are set in Russia, one is a folktale
called THE TURNIP and the other is a "poultry Cinderella". I will go to St.
Petersburg this June to get ideas. I'll look for farm details, and in order to
do so, I will stay on a farm for two days. I know that cranes are summer
visitors and I hope to get a glimpse of them. I'll also go for a visit to my
friend?s farm in Sweden, which is at the same degree of latitude north as St.
Petersburg and will have some of the same plants, animals and trees.
For the second book, a poultry Cinderella book, the scenes will be grand
and I will want to find the ornate court dresses and uniforms that will make the
scenes of the ball lavish, as well as a palace or two. I don't envision copying
a dress or building, but rather using them as a blueprint and then modifying
them. This week, I'll be starting on a dummy for the chicken Cinderella which
will be a 32 page book that I will sew together out of typing paper at a smaller
size than the final book. We call that the trim size. The art will be in a
sketchy style but finished enough for the book to take on its story. Then my
editor Margaret and I will go through it, adding here and editing there. I will
also need to write out the story first which I've already started. My general
rule is not to write what I can show in my illustrations, so my editor, because
she knows me so well imagines what I might be showing in the pictures. So I
have my two main characters ready, my Phoenix rooster, Elof will be the prince
and my Phoenix pullet, Edwina will be "Cinders".
We have just come back from India. We went to three national parks to see
a Tiger for a future book project, THE RUNAWAY SLIPPERS. We were joined by
Martin, our bird guide from South Africa. He helped us with our travel
arrangements and identified 175 different species of birds for us to see. Most
of them I had never seen before. I had many favorites, but the big standout was
the Red Jungle Fowl, a wild bird that is in the pheasant family and is the
ancestor of the domestic chicken. The males are absolutely gorgeous with
brilliant fiery orange red mantles and glossy iridescent green tail feathers.
They look like very beautiful barnyard roosters.
We saw two Tigers in the wild. The way guides find them in the middle of
these huge national parks is by listening for the alarm calls of deer and
monkeys (Langur). The deer's alarm call sounds like a dog barking once. There
are sandy roads through the park and you have to catch the Tiger crossing the
road because vehicles are not allow off the road. Tigers, being cats after all,
love to walk on a nice sandy road rather than through the woods. The Indian
term for the woods is "jungle". The habitat is a deciduous forest looking a lot
like the woods in Connecticut or Rhode Island minus the pines and hemlocks and
with the addition of bamboo thickets. The Tigers walk around early in the
morning so we had to bundle up with hot water bottles, hats, and mittens in
order to get into the park before dawn. At around 9 AM the Tigers settle down
for the day and sleep, because at around 5 PM they get ready to hunt through the
night. We are not allowed in the park after dark. Is very exciting to be
driving around and seeing pug-marks (which is the term for Tigers footprint) in
When we saw the four-year-old male Tiger coming out of the woods we were
ready with the camera that because we heard him first growl, and then roar. It
was a formidably loud sound. None of us were prepared for the beauty and grace
of the animal. Our open jeep followed the Tiger for about 1/2 mile, then he
stood up on his hind legs and scratched on a tree, then rubbed his face on it to
mark his territory. The guide could tell from the face markings which Tiger it
was. The park keeps track of Tigers because of the terrible problem poaching.
One park we went to has lost 22 Tigers in the last few years. There are only
about 5,000 left in the wild. I got lots of ideas from the countryside of India
because rural life around the park is much the same as it was in the olden days.
As I sit down to begin my new book, THE CHICKEN CINDERELLA, I imagine that
some of you will also be starting books and stories of your own. I find it
helpful to write down the story first, then make a 32 page book dummy, and then
do the finishes. It may be helpful to do sketches of your characters or the
imagined place where your story resides.
Happy reading, writing, and drawing.