August Hedge a gram

Happy August,

This is Jan Brett, and this is my August hedge a gram - the time I take on the first day of each month to keep in touch with friends about my children's books.
There are many aspects of my profession that I'm enthusiastic about doing, but none so much as painting away on the final pieces. The book starts as an idea that I discuss first with my husband Joe and then with my long time editor, Margaret. Come to think of it, my husband is long time too! Joe is a musician by background, and is familiar with the creative arts. He gives me a practical opinion and is very familiar with all my other books. Margaret is a towering talent, who really understands how a book unfolds.
Sometimes a book sketch will change and morph into quite a different story than my original idea. Last summer at about this time, on a hot night, the idea of an animal's Santa sprang into my head with no warning. It was a big surprise. My idea was to describe in a poetic way how a Snowy Owl Santa would bring presents to the animals in the wild woods. The owl has long been associated with mystery, knowledge and human-like roles in stories. Its large eyes placed on the front of its head and its beautiful plumage have made it a marvelous creature to draw. The snowy owl nests in Arctic regions, and then some travel quite far South in winter. We have a population that frequent Logan Airport in Boston, as well as the beaches of Cape Cod. They've always fascinated me. The snowy owl seem to be just waiting to become a Santa character. I knew owl's feathers have a soft leading edge that enables them to fly without sound and that furthered my inclination to make him the animal's Santa. I e-mailed late at night my longish poem to Margaret the same night it came to me. The next morning she wrote back that she loved the idea and she has questions. That is Margaret's nice way of saying that she thinks the story could be developed more. In all honesty, I felt my story was ready to go so I had to settle my thoughts and think about it. For several weeks I would turn over the story in my mind choosing certain characters to have expanded roles. I needed to create more in the story line department and give the book some emotion and tension. I've always been excited about how the common element H2O, water, has transformative powers. It can be a gas, a liquid, or a solid. I remember a story I read about a boy escaping pursuers across a huge frozen lake because he was the only one with skates. The Inuit built tall towers out of rock by using snow to lift them to higher levels as they placed rock upon rock as the snow got deeper. I decided to make use of the fact that ice can produce a tone when hit to make a chime. That would be how the animals would discover who the animal's Santa could be. They set a trap for him, with warning bells made of ice, so they could see for themselves who was leaving presents.
As a child I remembered being in the upstairs bedroom I shared with my sister straining to hear the sound of reindeer hooves on the roof or maybe reindeer bells. All those years ago people didn't have snow tires, so to create traction on the snowy streets they put special chains on their tires. The chains made a pleasant jingly sound, especially late at night when the lone car drove past. I'm sure I wasn't the only child who heard the jingle and thought "reindeer"!!
As I worked on my manuscript I really felt like I was just going through the motions until finally the story became something else. I don't like to admit it took another person to push me, but that's what happened on this book. I am grateful to work with an editor who I can trust. Now, that the hardest part is done, I can enjoy painting the illustrations.
If you're working on a creative project you know it is hard to juggle your ideas and be open to constructive criticism too. The important thing is the goal of a good book, and to me that's the important goal.

Happy reading and happy creating,

Your friend, Jan