August Hedge a gram

Happy August!

I have just spent most of July with my daughter, her husband and their two children. They are moving to Japan and I wanted to spend some time with them. Okinawa, their destination, is a beautiful island and I know they will have happy times there. I spent a little bit of each day on my book, but now that I'm back home I can devote every day to CINDERS, my upcoming picture book.
I am still reeling with all the input I received on our trip to Russia in June. I imagined St. Petersburg would be a atmospheric and fanciful place to set my story. My instincts were rewarded because the folk tradition in the arts in St. Petersburg is still alive and respected. We went to a spectacular performance of folk dancing, and a balalaika concert combined that gave me lots of imagery that I can use in my book to give it authenticity. Although saying this I would like to say I will also use some of my own touches. I'll be creating an imaginary world where the chickens will be dressing for the Ball. I wanted my poultry characters to wear colorful and remarkable dresses, and elaborate suits. When I visited the Museum of Ethnography I found impeccably preserved and mounted examples of traditional dress from all over Russia. I am really fascinated by the hats, which are made of rich fabrics and feature lots of gold and silver trims. Each headdress makes the wearer look like a princess. The museum also displayed a beautifully painted and carved wooden sleigh which gave me lots of ideas for Cinder's coach.
The breed of chickens I specialize in raising is the White Crested Polish. The males have a brilliant white long topknot instead of a comb and I will give them a special job as the balalaika musicians in my book. My husband Joe, plays the double bass in the Boston Symphony and I have a wonderful photograph of him with the bass balalaika player. The female Polish have a rounded" poof" on their heads and it perfectly sets off the elaborate head dresses that are traditional in Russia. When we visited Catherine's palace, I was amazed to see paintings of crested fowl much like the ones I raise. It is a very old European breed.
I couldn't wait to get to work on the finished pages and try to replicate the architecture I saw in Russia. There is a style of building in the area around the Baltic that features intricate wood carving. The roofs supports are covered with elaborate carving, sometimes featuring mythological creatures like the Sirin, which is a bird with a woman's face, fanciful birds similar to peafowl, lions, reindeer and roosters. The actual roofs can be any manner of domes and towers. When we visited the ancient city of Novgorod we wandered among the restored wooden structures built in this style, and it was like being in a fairy tale. The feeling you get from photos does not represent the scale. Everything is on a small scale and feels very friendly. Of course, it helped that it was a beautiful day with the countryside surrounding us bursting with late springtime lushness. The latitude is very far north so it didn't get dark until midnight, and the sky would get light again around 2:30 am. I had to remind myself that in winter, when my book CINDERS takes place, it would be just the opposite with only a few hours of sunshine at midday. I'm glad we had traveled to Northern Norway in late December a few years ago to get ideas for WHO’S THAT KNOCKING ON CHRISTMAS EVE.
Often when I speak to school children, I mention that the process of working with an editor is like doing an assignment for a respected teacher in school. Even though I want to stay true to my vision of the story, I want to remain open to suggestions and even criticisms that my editor makes, if the result will be a better story. My editor is very keen on making the sizes of Cinders, the overbearing stepmother and the bossy step-sisters very identifiable, and I've been struggling to do so.
Cinderella is not one of the fairy stories that particularly appealed to me as a child, but I did love the part where the mice were turned into coachman and the pumpkin into a coach. Now that I've had a chance to retell it I've found the process creative and satisfying. I was the oldest of three girls and it was hard to relate to stories where the oldest sister was hard and mean and the youngest was beautiful and kind. I found ways to make the mother overbearing rather than cruel and the older sisters silly instead of mean. In our family we did have a beautiful little sister that every one loved so it was easy to write the Cinders character! I have a very beautiful breed of chicken that I used for Cinders called the Phoenix. It's an American breed but it's origins are from Japan. The female is ashy grey with a reddish breast, and they have a dainty comb and large luminous eyes, and a proud carriage. The hen I'm using for a model is called Eddie, along with her Phoenix Aunts, Gudrun and Freya. The male Phoenix is known for his extremely long tail which can grow 3 feet long or even longer if the genetics are right. He has a large red comb and stately carriage, you could even say regal! He is always a specific color, the "silver" variety is the one that I breed and it is different than the female with a pure white ruff or hackle and a glossy green chest and tail. I can't wait to paint him as the royal prince but am I'm afraid I won't do him justice as it is difficult to show the iridescence in the feathers.
If you are working on a creative project I hope by describing my thought processes, it will help you sort out your decisions. Happy reading, writing and drawing,

Your Friend ,

Jan Brett