April Hedge a Gram

Happy April!

     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 illustrator.
      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,

Jan Brett