I love winter, and although officially it is still late fall, I have seen snow almost every day on our book tour, and the temperatures are cold! I've been talking about my new book SNOWY NAP at every stop, and the listening children always seem to perk up at the word hibernation, undoubtedly having learned all about this process at school or from their parents. Although different families have sometimes more and sometimes less interest in the natural world, children seem to absorb much about the creatures we share the earth with. When I first started painting Hedgehogs in my books they hardly appeared in the usual children's book, except for the legendary Mrs. Tiggywiggle in Beatrix Potter's book of the same name, and in Louis Carroll's ALICE IN WONDERLAND. In that classic tale the hedgehogs are minor but ever memorable players in a curious croquet game where they appear when the croquet balls unroll and walk away, confusing the players. On my tour however, I'm beginning to think Hedgehogs are gaining a presence! I have met several live African Pygmy Hedgehogs and one was spotted with a white head and foreparts. Another family described their hedgehog as a beautiful blonde named Barbie. Live Hedgehogs take much thought and care. Our two Hedgehogs, sadly passed away now, lived for 8 years plus and eight years respectively, Pudge and Hedga. They were both females and made good pets, especially since I work late into the night and Hedgehogs are nocturnal and that is when they are up and about. I think the best discovery we made about keeping a hedgehog was to provide an exercise wheel with felt inserted in the wire footpath area so she couldn't poke a leg through. On tour I have been visited with a tiny baby dressed in a hedgehog footed blanket with hedgehog nose, eyes and ears framing the babies face, a child size stand-up walking Hedgie and numerous shirts, hats and mittens! Thank you, Cody, WY for an amazing Hedgehog cake and for my extra warm Hedgie mittens.
Now that I am home, back in New England I am able to spend hours working on THE TALE OF THE TIGER SLIPPERS. Every day I pour through my books on the Mughal court paintings of India. The history is daunting, and although my book is a work of fiction, I am struggling to make everything, clothing, buildings and flora and fauna authentic. I bought many books in India and at various museum bookstores that I am relying on, but my editor is also helping by providing two scholars in the field to look over the art. So far, I will have to change some of the architecture so it will look less religious and more palatial.
I am looking forward to a visit to The Musk Ox Farm in Palmer, Alaska just before Christmas. I hope to see Teal the young female we have sponsored for a year, and have my photograph taken with her. She has a lot of white wool on her face and back, one of the reasons I chose her. That is so when the Musk Ox farm posts videos, which they do often, I might be able to pick her out in the herd. We live so far away I probably will only see her three times a year when I visit my daughter and her family in Eagle River Alaska.
When I was a young girl imagining my life as a children's book illustrator, I never would have envisioned going about the country signing a Hedgehog book set in Denmark, painting pages of a Tiger book set in India on my days off and planning a trip to Alaska to get to know my next book's character, Cozy(real name Teal) the Musk Ox. My bus has the motto "Reading Takes you Places" and I am definitely feeling that this December!
No matter if you journey in the pages of a book, in your imagination or in real life, happy creating!
Your Friend, Jan Brett