Happy March!

      I am turning cartwheels with enthusiasm about starting off with my latest book project.  Every month, I tell about what is going on in my life as an illustrator, I call it my hedge-a-gram, and this month is unique because I'm underway with THE TURNIP.
     My contact with my publisher is for a children's book every year, this yearly work cycle is really ingrained in my mind, since this is my 36th book.  What I really would like to express is how powerful and confirming a creative project can be.  There always hurdles, and it is easy to be impatient, but the rewards are like nothing else.  Please give it a try.  I've always struggled with the irony that my most satisfying way to tell a story is with drawings not with words.  For me words tap into another world where a story carries you, and I wish I was an inspired writer.   I've always been incredulous when after reading a work of fiction, I feel I've been in some of the places described, and that the characters are alive somewhere.  I don't feel the magic when I am writing as much as when I'm drawing, I wish I could.
     It doesn?t matter how you are creative, but that you use your imagination in some medium.  It may be that with all the knowledge children are learning in school in order to do well in tests, it will be up to the parents and friends to encourage kids to write fiction and draw and paint.  My sister, who was taught for as long as I've written books, says in 2014 children are still bursting with creative ideas.  I don't doubt her. Sometimes a big success for a child, say actually writing a small book or creating a poster can resonate later and lead to more and more creative projects.  I remember in high school I illustrated GREY?S ELEGY IN A COUNTRY CHURCH YARD for a favorite English teacher.   I hope there will be time for this in the classroom, but if not it?s good to carve out some time at home.
     I was once given a beautiful, simple carved wooden toy from Russia of three people and a bear pulling a turnip out of the ground.  I thought it was charming and I remembered the story it went with, THE TURNIP.  The premise, of finding a giant vegetable really tickles my fancy.  I have an acquaintance who grows giant pumpkins, over 900 pounds, and I've been to the pumpkin patch.  "It could happen", I said to myself.
     When I traveled to St. Petersburg, Russia, 2 years ago to do the research for CINDERS, I had in my mind that I would like to retell and illustrate THE TURNIP in a few years.  Although we passed through farmland on the way to Novgorod, I didn't see any small farms like we have in New England.  Instead I relied on the Russian Museum of Ethnography and their vast collection of books about life in the olden days.  The clothing and buildings in the old villages were very artistic and colorful.  The printed cloth fabrics of the garments were lovely and each one, with its trim and embroidery seemed a work of art.  I knew I would be very happy to paint the combinations of color and design, especially when a turnip would be the central image, purple and yellow.
     My Russian family in the book are European Badgers.  They are rolley, comical, strikingly colored animals that cry out for a story behind their mischievous expressions.  From what I've heard and seen on the Internet, they are naturally playful and social.  The other main character is the Russian bear.  In my story she's a mom with her hands full getting her cubs into their den to go to sleep for the winter.  Unbeknownst to the badger and friends who are trying to pull the turnip up, beneath them underground, the turnip has grown into the space that would be the bear's bedroom.  When mother bear gets fed up, and gives the turnip the one two... The animals topside are in for a big surprise.
     I've taken quite a few folk tales and given them a new twist in past books.  My husband, Joe, who is a classical musician, often plays works that are theme and variations, or reworking of an older piece of music by a master.  My favorite is Brahm?s Variations on a theme by Haydn.   I think I feel happy using this device in my picture books because my grandfather, William Thaxter was a great storyteller.  Every time he told a story he embellished it in a slightly different way.  We children loved listening, and even if we knew the end from before, we reveled in the telling.  For me, that's something to aspire to.
     Happy storytelling in your own special way, your friend,

                                     Jan Brett