July Hedge a gram

Happy July!

      This is Jan Brett and this is my July hedge a gram, my monthly communication about my work as an illustrator and writer of children's books.  I like to offer a progress report on the book I'm working on, and hopefully give you some insights about creating a storybook, with pictures of course.  I separate the process into three parts.  First, there is the idea for the story that involves a complete plot - the hardest part.  I see the story told with a border idea that involves some kind of subplot, so that plot should be envisioned too, before I travel to a foreign country to get ideas.  Sometimes the story will take 10 years before all the pieces fall into place.  The second part is writing the manuscript, which may go through two or three versions that I talk about with my editor, Margaret Frith.  At this point I sewed together typing paper into signatures of four pages that will add up to a 32 page book, the usual number for a picture book.  This is called the dummy.  Then, after meeting with Margaret, I'll begin the finishes.  We will look for technical pitfalls -- like putting a character too close to the center of the spread where it could be obscured, or we may talk about the color palette, or the age of the characters.  Most importantly we will talk about the pacing and where I may choose to take out parts of the manuscript I can best describe by illustrating or places where I may want to explain in words when the action doesn't seem clear in the dummy.  For me, I like the book to be loose and flexible so the illustrations can dictate the shape of the story as it progresses.
     I've been tramping through the woods looking for pieces of birchbark, especially ones with interesting patterns of lichen.  Several years ago, I found a huge, very heavy, scientific book about lichens.  I have some sort of fascination with them.
     On a previous trip to Scandinavia, I met Norwegian's who collected flat stones with interesting map lichen on them.  In arctic Sweden my friend Elof took a lot of photos of characterful lichen patterns for me to use in my book.  The decorative borders in HOME FOR CHRISTMAS I painted to look like birchbark.  In the open air national cultural museum in Sweden, called Skansen, I was able to see objects made of birchbark, or carved from birch.  I've always been fascinated by the paperlike quality of pieces of birchbark found on the forest floor.  When I was little, I really wanted a birch bark canoe, but had to settle for writing letters on birchbark.  The other intriguing plant I became obsessed with is the Lingonberry.  I just had six Lingonberry plants put in around our turtle pond.  Every time I go to the store I buy a jar of Lingonberry preserves.  I love them on my homemade bread (toasted) or in yogurt.  I will include my homemade bread recipe at the end of my hedge a gram.  Be prepared, if you make it, that it is quite thick.  I think it's pretty healthy.
     The bread we sampled in Sweden was scrumptious - perfect for someone like me who likes things crunchy.  In the olden days flat bread would be cooked in a circular form, flat as a pancake with a hole in the middle.  The rounds would be strung on a pole up in the ceiling, and they would last the winter.  Some of the fancy rounds would be covered with different kinds of seeds and coarse salt which I found delicious with a small amount of homemade butter.  I will definitely put flat bread in the trolls house in my book!
     One of the decorative elements I'll put in my story is the Rod Flugsvamp in Swedish and Fly Agaric in English, mushroom.  You often see it pictured in fairytale illustrations.  It is bright red, with white spots on that look like breadcrumbs.  A bit down the stalk is a white ruffle or collar.  This mushroom when fully mature is wide like a hat, but when it is first emerging it is called a button, and looks like a little red globe.  This mushroom is highly toxic, and can cause visions and hallucinations if eaten, and worse.  I don't know all the details, but I do know it is one of the mushrooms people should never ever eat.  It makes me wonder if this mushroom was put in a fairytale to signal that something magical and weird might follow, like perhaps a troll.  I plan to follow this tradition, and illustrate lots of red polkadotted mushrooms in the forest scenery.  Rollo the troll, who goes for a walkabout in the forest, will eat only the edible mushrooms.  I will be able to picture them accurately because I brought back a Swedish mushroom book.  Even though the book is in Swedish, all the poisonous mushrooms have a skull and cross bones besides them, the universal symbol for mortal danger!
     Someday I would like to write and illustrate a book featuring dots.  My favorite combination is white dots on a bright red background, and I collect red things with white dots.  My favorite comic book when I was little was Dottie Dot, even though I wasn't allowed to buy comic books, I could read them.
     I hope you find a way to be creative in the month of July, by writing your own comic book, by going on a nature walk and drawing and writing about what you see, or writing in the free association style, whatever comes to mind as one thought leads to another, like I have just done!

     Happy reading, your friend,

                        Jan Brett

                         CRUNCHY WHOLE- GRAIN NUT BREAD

Mix 1 1/2 packets of yeast with 1/2 c warm water and let fluff up and bubble
1/2 cup molasses
1 t sea salt
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup buttermilk powder if you can find it, or powdered milk, if not -- this ingredient is not essential
2 cups warm water
1/2 cup softened butter, some stores carry homemade which I prefer

Blend this mixture and add 8 cups of flour-- the kind of flours for this recipe will follow.  After adding one half the total amount of flour, blend in 1 cup walnuts chopped very fine and 1 cup dried cranberries and 1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds (optional) -- it's easier to blend the nuts and fruit this way.
The 8 cups of flour include
1/4 cup flaxseed meal
1/4 cup wheat germ
1/4 cup  King Arthur Harvest Crunchy Grains Blend
3 cups King Arthur 12 grain flour - I ordered from their website, but if you can't be bothered use whole wheat flour.
4 cups of King Arthur bread flour, found in most grocery stores.  It has more gluten in it and makes a chewy texture to your bread.  Sometimes I will use King Arthur white whole wheat flour which I order from the website.
I knead the dough for 10 minutes, timed.   Place the bread in a greased bowl in a warm place with a damp towel on top.  It should rise until doubled in bulk.  Punch down and shape into two loaves to fit standard pans, that have greased with butter, let rise and place in a cold oven.  Turn temperature to 400? for 10 minutes and turn down to 375? for a remaining 20 to 25 minutes until done.  A loaf of bread that is fully cooked will sound drum like when tapped on the top.  Do not peek!Whoops, I think the last instructions is for my gingerbread recipe!   It is best to bake bread on a sunshiney day with low humidity.  I think my fresh hen's eggs also contribute to a nicely risen loaf!   Thank you Bonnie, Foo-lion, Pang, Cindy, Cricket, and Fleur, my best laying hens!