April Hedge a Gram
This is Jan Brett, and this is my monthly hedge a gram,
the time I take each month to tell you what's happening in my life as an
I just finished a 2 1/2 week book tour. It was
great to speak to children, teachers and librarians at my 22 books stops. I do a
drawing lesson at each book store, and the best part of the tour is seeing the
drawings the children create as they follow along. I know I'm repeating myself
as I say this, I find children's drawings full of imagination and pizzazz. I'm
admiring of the child's state of mind, which is energetic and bold. I met some
very talented children. I also admire all the mom's, dad's, and grandparent's
enthusiasm for children's literature. I can tell that their conviction that
reading is an outstanding life skill will give their children profound rewards
as they explore the world of books. The teachers and librarians I met have my
deep appreciation. I met people who bought their books out of their own pocket
for their classes and libraries.
My last stop on the book tour was New York City where I
was asked to be a guest on the Martha Stewart show. Since my friends and
relatives were curious I will tell you what I told them.
It was an unusual day because I was expecting a high
tech, performance orientated experience, but from the minute we arrived we were
surrounded by positive energy and lots of creative, encouraging and supportive
people. There was a wardrobe check in the green room, where each guest was able
to relax until it was his or her turn - warm chocolate chip cookies made this
very pleasant! We all got to go to hair and makeup which is glamorous, since the
stylists were so expert. They were so friendly and interesting, that I forgot to
be nervous. The producers had us rehearse our segments and the camera and sound
crew, instead of being impatient with non-actors, were fun loving and
supportive. I felt euphoric and I think all the other guests did too. I haven't
mentioned the other reason I might have felt euphoric; besides being surrounded
by so much talent, the show was about chickens my most favorite creature!
My part of the program was to show the beautiful cochin
chicken that pulls the Easter Bunny's wagon in THE EASTER EGG. Then I was asked
to bring in my white crested Polish chicken that had a role in THE GINGERBREAD
FRIENDS. The producer, sensing my enthusiasm for showing chickens, asked me to
find the most perfect specimens of different breeds that I knew of. The staff
knew that my hobby was breeding and showing exhibition bantams. I asked my
friend Janet Winnett, one of the country's foremost breeders of silky chickens,
if I could borrow two silky hens, a white, and a splash, which is white with
blue grey splotches. The silky has a puff on its head, feathered feet, and its
feathers are fur like. Next, I got up my nerve and asked two revered poultry
judges if I could borrow their birds. Warren Carlow of Rhode Island is a master
breeder of Barred Plymouth Rocks, one of the first American breeds. Each feather
is horizontally striped with black-and-white, and they are incredibly beautiful.
They are one of America's proudest achievements in poultry.
Jerry Yeaw, also a judge, and master breeder, let me
borrow his stunning Belgian d'uccle hen. She is the millie fleur variety, which
means her feathers have three colors. They are rich golden with a black V-shaped
tip, and the very end of the feather is brilliant white. If you squint your
eyes, it is like looking into a field of flowers. His d'uccles also have extra
feathers on their faces, called beards and muffs, and they too have feathered
feet. I thought Martha would marvel at the beauty of the millie fleur feather
pattern. Very few chickens have it.
I also asked Bruce and Avril Clapp of Massachusetts to
let me present their black modern game hens. They look like teeny ballerinas and
have lots of personality. The modern games have been bred to have enormously
delicate long legs, small compact heart shaped bodies and sleek heads with
bright eyes and a slender neck. Even though they are gentle and tame, they have
a way of bossing you around that is humorous.
I was most excited about showing my Polish which
are a black bird with a beetle green sheen. Their little faces are dominated by
a huge pom-pom shaped crest that almost covers their eyes. If you ever see a
bird that looks like a normal chicken with a softball sized crown of white
feathers on its head, that would be the white crested Polish.
I put some eggs in my incubator 24 days before the
show, so I could bring three-day-old Polish chicks to the show. They now live in
Martha's beautiful chicken coop. They are out of some of my champion birds, so I
hope they'll grow up to be magnificent specimens of their breed.
My last hen to show was the buff cochin, the one I used
for the model for THE EASTER EGG. She was bred from a well-known master
exhibitor, Tom Roebuck of Virginia. The Cochin is profusely feathered and very
large and commanding. Even their cluck sounds deep and imposing, like it's
coming from down in a well! The cochin created a huge sensation in England in
the 1850's when they were first imported from Asia. Instead of a tail that
extends from their back line, the Cochin is round. The feathers mound up in a
"cushion" that creates a globular silhouette. Cochin owners really should sport
bumper stickers that say "Go Globular."
My impression of Martha Stewart was that she loves
animals. Her face lit up when she talked about her beautifully tame and elegant
Americanas that lay the blue and green tinted eggs. She's kept chickens for 30
years, and I could tell she hasn't lost her enthusiasm for nature's perfect
package, and delicious protein, the egg. A fresh egg is such a treat whether it
is eaten simply for breakfast or in baking. A farm egg really does taste better
than a store egg. It may be from the diet. I give my chickens squash,
blueberries, yogurt, kale, oatmeal and mealy worms! I don't want to think about
what the mealy worms add, but chickens do eat insects!
The set for Martha's TV show is a showcase of exquisite
taste. It is modern and elegant but still warm and friendly like someone's
house. There are framed pictures and photographs everywhere, as well as plants
and flowers in a greenhouse. The kitchen is filled with Martha's collectibles.
How she manages to create all she does, even with her talented colleagues is
mystifying. Besides creating the show I was on, they had also done a live show
in the morning. The crew had built a little chicken house with nest boxes and a
ramp that led into a peaked run for our chickens to walk around in. While we
rehearsed our segments, Martha did yoga in her office. Having just experimented
with my first yoga session on my book tour, I can see how relaxing and
revitalizing it must be. Lastly, the audience is very respected, and everyone
was conscious of how they were reacting. They were given lots of presents,
including THE EASTER EGG and EXTRAORDINARY CHICKENS, a wonderful portfolio of
chicken portraits from the poultry exhibition halls by Stephen Green-Armytage.
Lastly, I was able to meet one of my favorite authors,
Susan Orleans. Her book THE ORCHID THIEF I have given to countless friends, and
I reread it every year and listen to it on tape. It's about obsession and I
definitely have a streak of that in my interests. She has chickens.
I wish I could relive the whole day. Joe came with me
and we are continually talking about how everything worked.
While I come down to earth, I will be adding to my Easter and rabbit mural. Then
it will be onto my dummy for HOME FOR CHRISTMAS, my troll book. On
April 19, I'm running the Boston Marathon. I get lots of book ideas while I'm
running. For a big race like Boston, I've got lots of time to think, it takes me
over four hours to run it. I have to admit though, after about 14 miles, I will
be focusing on keeping my pace and no daydreaming.
Happy drawing and writing,