This is Jan Brett and this is my May hedge a gram, the
time I take to tell you what's happening in my life as an author/illustrator.
I'm in China right now traveling with my husband, a double bass player in the
Boston Symphony. The orchestra will perform in three cities in China, then
Tokyo, Japan and afterwards we will stop in Okinawa, Japan an island far to the
south, to visit my daughter and her family. I will visit historical sites and
try to absorb as much of the culture as I can, in hopes that a future book idea
will happen. I have done a book set in Guilin, China, DAISY COME HOME, starring
a little girl who loses her pet chicken. Guilin is a particularly picturesque
part of China and a wonderful place to set a book. The mountains, which out of
the earth like jagged teeth are covered with green and look like silhouettes of
animals. The Li, or crystal river, is home to cormorant fishing. The fisherman
pole bamboo rafts out onto the river with a flock of cormorant, duck like birds
that are trained to dive for fish and bring them to their master for a reward.
Although the fishing is now mostly staged, it makes one feel like you are back
in the olden days to see it.
I've just spent weeks on my letter to children about my
latest book, THE ANIMALS SANTA, I call my news notes. It tells tidbits about the
book which will be out next fall in time for Christmas. We will send out 80,000
of my four-page full-color letter to friends and also have it available to
download online. I usually try to make one page an interactive activity and
because it's a Christmas book, the last page is a Christmas card I created for
my friend's use. It can be downloaded and copied at your local copy shop or used
as it is. The idea behind my book is that people have a Santa, but how about the
animals? My answer is "Yes!" In a remote village in northern Canada a group of
animal friends find mysterious presents on Christmas morning. They think they
could be from Santa, but no one knows for sure until snowshoe rabbit sets a
trap. Santa is a snowy owl, and my card is from him. I imagine people sending it
from their pet, to their friend's pets. Or, if you don't have a pet, it could be
sent as a whimsical Christmas card. Usually I use a somewhat simpler art style,
but because the card was intended to be used by my friends, I use my best effort
and employed my "book style". I'll have it up online in plenty of time for the
holiday season. The project took a long time.
Because I spent so much time on my news notes, I'm now trying to catch up with
the current book, THE TURNIP. I set the book in Russia, in the area around St.
Petersburg, where I visited two years ago to do research for CINDERS. I will
have to spend some of my time painting in my hotel room during this trip,
instead of sightseeing, so I can at least finish one page.
I have loved the turnip story for years, but is unique because in Russia much of
the fun is in the telling. The names of the different characters rhyme and make
the word a tongue twister. Since my English counterparts are not tongue
twisters, I had to create a new surprise element to keep the story lively. As
the animals, in this case badgers, line up to pull the giant turnip out of the
ground, a bear's den lies underneath. In fact, the giant turnip has taken up the
Bear's bedroom! Can you guess what event will finally unearth the turnip? Hint,
the bear wants that turnip out of her bedroom!
So far, I've written the text and have just received some samples of the type,
both of which I love. But one stood out as having just the right qualities to
enhance the artwork. It's slightly old-fashioned and European in quality, but if
letters could evoke humor these would. Marikka Tamura, the designer at my
publisher who I have worked with for many of my books, is responsible for
finding some interesting choices of type. She will send me my story in the new
type face and then it's my job to leave room for it in my artwork, which is
harder than it sounds. Artists are notorious for wanting all the page space for
their art! In the end though, I think illustrators love the look of type and art
together and that is one reason why we choose this medium, a children's book.
I have my book dummy that I use as a guide as I work on
the finished pages. It's my favorite part of the process, and I tried also tried
to leave a little mental energy to bring new life to my pages as they are
transformed from the cartoon-like book dummy.
Signing off from Beijing, China, your friend, Jan Brett