Happy February!

     This is Jan Brett, and this is my February hedge a gram, the time I take to talk about what I'm doing at my job as an author and illustrator.
My book for the fall of 2011, HOME FOR CHRISTMAS, is completed. I just had my first look at the printer's examples of the jacket. It is momentous to see the jacket for the first time because when I rendered the art, I had to imagine how the display type of the title, and my name would look. There is also a solid color border that is added which changes the look of the art, somewhat like a frame either enhances or detracts from a piece of art. Some of the images on the jacket have a spot varnish, which it makes it look subtly shiny, and gives the effect of more depth. If you have a chance, take a look at some of the book jackets in the bookstore. Art directors have lots of tricks to enhance the 10" x 11" shape or whatever that is the book jacket. The printer also has the ability to take the display type and raise it slightly, giving a 3-D effect. Even though I pay attention to the design of the jacket, it is the one time I take a backseat to the editor, art director, and designer. They have a lot of input. The team at Penguin is really great, and have always raised the standard for me.
     There's always a sense of sadness when I finish a book and have to say goodbye to my characters, and in this case, the beautiful landscapes of Arctic Sweden. On the other hand, it is a marathon and the end of a year's painting, plus lots of time thinking and planning the story, even before putting brush to paper. Although I'm finishing the end papers -- a decorative touch that I hope will add to the Christmasy atmosphere, I have already written the first draft of MOSSY the story of a turtle which means I've turned the page on one book and focused on another. It's been seen by my editor Margaret and she likes it, so the largest hurdle has been overcome. My next step will be to do thumbnails -- little sketches that fit a 32 page format, before making a book dummy. I like to sew the signatures and create a coverless book at this stage. I can patch over things if I need to, but I love the tradition of the sewn signatures. It gives my efforts credibility, even if it is only to myself.
     I'm not going to another country for my MOSSY book. Mossy is an Eastern box turtle and they live in my geographic location in southeastern Massachusetts. I may have seen one in the wild when I was little. I know I saw a wood turtle -- also a terrestrial one, about 20 years ago, and I see spotted turtles and red eared sliders in ponds. I wanted Mossy to be a land turtle, although there is one scene in my book, where Mossy speaks to another Eastern box turtle in a pond, it can definitely happen, I found in my research.
We constructed a turtle pond, hoping to attract turtles two years ago. It is deep enough for the turtles to hibernate below the frost line -- 3 1/2 feet here south of Boston, it has built-in caves for the turtles to hide from predators like raccoons and flat rocks for sunning. Last fall we planted lingonberries and this spring we are planting strawberries. So far we've gotten a few frogs and I'm disappointed no turtles have arrived. Just south of us, within 15 miles, there is a small population of red bellied turtles, which are protected. I'm hoping to find out more about them because they're endangered because of habitat destruction. Plymouth County where we live was filled with bogs, ponds and lakes after the glacier retreated during the last ice age, and we have a lot of wetlands in back of our house. No wonder I didn't need to travel far afield for this book. In a way, the setting for MOSSY will be similar to THE EASTER EGG a book I wrote and illustrated in 2010 also set in my backyard.
     I'll need to give MOSSY a different sort of look. Much of it takes place in a small museum in the 1890's, and I would like to show some of the museum's collection in the borders -- bird's eggs, arrow heads, rocks, and minerals and butterflies. When I was in art school in Boston, I made frequent visits to the Peabody Museum at Harvard. I love that Museum, especially the folk art and artifacts from world cultures. They have the famous glass flowers that look exactly like real flowers. I remember going there with my little daughter and studying the mammals. There are so many details a person needs to be aware of when you are are drawing. I have a lot of enthusiasm for this book, and it is hard to rein in myself while I work out the plans for the borders, and fine tune the plot.
As for the future, I'm hoping to illustrate and retell THE TURNIP, a Russian folk tale, so I'm blocking out some time to take a trip to St. Petersburg next year. I still have a lot of work to do on the retelling, and that's a challenge that I'll think about when I'm running, or I'll try that trick of thinking about of a puzzle in the story just before going to sleep. Then sometimes you come up with the answer the next morning. I'll definitely need more of the story before I buy my tickets to Russia!
     I hope February is the start of a new project for you, or a continuation of one you've got going already.

Your friend,

Jan Brett