Happy February!

      Every month I stop what I'm doing to give an update about my progress with my latest children's picture book. But this month, I was so overwhelmed with getting the artwork finished, I couldn't stop. I finally finished and THE MERMAID is at the printers. Before that final step is taken though, Marikka, the art designer at Penguin, puts all of the type in place. As I do the pages, I send very accurate scans of the artwork, but I always have changes in the wording. With so few words in a picture book every word is carefully chosen. The general rule for an author- illustrator like me is that if I can show it in the illustrations, I don't elaborate as much with words.  Marikka is very thoughtful about how she breaks the lines of type. It's an art in itself. She also chooses the display type, the often ornamental letters of the title and of my name that appear on the book's jacket, and on the title page. I was excited to see she also used an ornamental capital to begin the first sentence, something that was done extensively in olden times and that captivated me as a child. I can remember being carried away by a picture book about the Arabian Nights' stories set in the Middle East. The display type was beautifully rendered in gold letters, fitted with jewels. I have never forgotten the pull those letters had on me. I just had to open that book and see inside. Now that I have the Internet, maybe I could find a copy of that book. My dearest hope is that a child will see the seaweed like curl of the letters spelling THE MERMAID and they will be drawn to my book in the same way. It is always a very unique part of the creative process to do the final bits. In my mermaid story, once I looked at it finished, I felt the octopuses looked too menacing. They do truly turn red when charged up, but I wanted to walk a fine line between the octopuses being protective and of them being menacing. I got to admire this unusual and intelligent creature when I had a hands on encounter with Sy the octopus at the New England aquarium, and I didn't want children to get the impression that they were scary. When I do the front material, which includes the title page I have a chance to set the spirit of the book. I painted the mermaid's beautiful tiara, which she later gives as a gift to the baby octopus. By illustrating it on the title page I can present it in a way that hints to the reader that it is an important part of the story.
    My next project is to work on the text of next year's book which doesn't have a title yet. It is a sequel to THE HAT, set in Denmark. Hedgie, who usually misses winter because he is hibernating tries to stay awake in order to see the wonders of snow, with the help of Lisa. I may even do a simple book dummy in order to present it properly to my editor. I really love doing a book dummy. I take typing paper, fold it into signatures (groups of four pages) and sew them to make thirty two pages, the length of most picture books. I usually put in the border idea that doesn't have words. When I am going back and forth with my editor, Susan, I will start on another project that I love doing, my newsnotes. This is a four page booklet that is an illustrated letter to children about my book. This one will be about THE MERMAID, and will go into depth about how I got the idea for the book, about the setting, Okinawa island, my encounter with a wild octopus and a lot about meeting Sy the octopus at the New England Aquarium. I can't wait to illustrate the beautiful Nudibrach. They are brightly colored sea creatures that live in my imagined octopus house. This book involved a lot of fun research, and I hope my newsnotes will inspire others to explore special places and learn about unique characters to put in their stories.
     In the meantime, I am getting lots of ideas on my training runs. I have a big long distance race in April. I have also put eggs in the incubator and I am hoping for baby chicks in 21 days. I also have 6 precious eggs growing under Rounder my Silky hen.
    Happy creating, your friend, 
        Jan Brett