March Hedge a Gram

Happy March Everyone!

At the beginning of each month I take time to think about what I'm doing as a children's book illustrator, so I can write it down and tell you about it. When I was little, and wanted to illustrate books, there wasn't any way I could know what day to day life would be like as an artist. I'd love to tell you some tidbits, so if you want to be an illustrator, you'll know what it's like.

I've recently written a new story called The Surprise. The main characters are a hen, a hedgehog, and a Tomten. A Tomten is a Danish elf. I set my story in Denmark because I loved visiting there for the research for The Hat, the story I wrote about Hedgie the hedgehog. The other character in the story is modeled after Delly, a hen I owned when I was about ten. She was a Rhode Island Red and very tame. I am going to buy a hen and some chicks to use a models for the new book when I do the finished artwork this summer.

I showed my story to Margaret, my editor at Putnam and she liked it. Margaret helps me with the manuscript and gives me helpful suggestions. Cecilia, my art director, looks at the artwork and gives me suggestions too. I prepare a very small version of the book in sketches called a book "dummy". When I went to the Putnam last week for our meeting, Margaret and Cecilia both looked at the story and the dummy with fresh eyes. If parts of the story need to be clearer, or if they seemed not just right they could tell me. It takes me a while to think about their suggestions, I can't always trust my first reaction. I always read what I write to my husband, Joe, and then I go back and re-work the story, thinking about everyone's new ideas. My new story, The Surprise, didn't need much changing, although some of the stories I've written do. Surprisingly, one of the biggest challenges in the book is something pretty basic - how to fit the text into the artwork in a natural way. When a scene in one of my stories is set outside it's easier, because the sky in the artwork provide a big and simple area where I can place the words of the story. In The Surprise, much of the story takes place in a chicken coop so it will be more of a challenge.

Today, I'm working on animals masks that I'll add to my Internet site next September. They're all of the animals from my fall book, The Gingerbread Baby. I'm doing the masks for all of the teachers and librarians who've written to me that their students like to do play versions of my stories. I'm excited to create a new project to share with you!

Bye for now, your friend,

Jan Brett