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 the sand.
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.