Children's Authors/Jan Brett

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Biographical Information[edit | edit source]

Jan Brett is a best-selling author and illustrator of children’s books. Her books are known for “colorful, detailed depictions of a wide variety of animals and human cultures ranging from Scandinavia to Africa”. [1]
Jan was born on December 1, 1949 in Hingham, Massachusetts. She lives in the seacoast town of Norwell in Massachusetts, close to where she grew up. During the summer, her family, husband Joseph Hearne and daughter Lia, live in a cabin in the Berkshire Mountains near Tanglewood, Massachusetts. Jan’s husband is a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra; Tanglewood is also the summer home of the orchestra.

Childhood[edit | edit source]

As a child Jan loved to draw. She especially loved horses and constantly drew pictures of them. She had many different pets as a child including: guinea pigs, rabbits, dogs, cats, a donkey, a horse, and even a pet chicken named Delly who used to ride on Jan’s shoulder. Memories of these beloved animals are often depicted in her illustrations. “When I was I child, I decided to be an illustrator. I spent many hours reading and drawing. I remember the special quiet of rainy days, when I felt that I could enter the pages of beautiful picture books. Now I try to re-create that feeling of believing that the imaginary place I'm drawing really exists. The detail in my work helps to convince me, and I hope others as well, that such places might be real” [2]. Jan currently has three pets: Westy, a quarterhorse, Perky Pumpkin, a Siberian husky, and Little Pearl, a mouse. Perky Pumpkin was the inspiration and model for the dog in her book The First Dog. Little Pearl was the model for the mouse in her stories Goldilocks and the Three Bears and also in The Mitten.

Education[edit | edit source]

Jan Brett attended Colby Junior College in 1968-1969 and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts School in 1970. While in college in Boston, Jan spent many spare hours in the Museum of Fine Arts. “As a student at the Museum School in Boston, I spent hours in the Museum of Fine Arts. It was overwhelming to see room-size landscapes and towering stone sculptures, and then moments later to refocus on delicately embroidered kimonos and ancient porcelain. I'm delighted and surprised when fragments of these beautiful images come back to me in my painting” [2].

The Author. The Illustrator[edit | edit source]

The first children's book Jan Brett wrote and illustrated was Fritz and the Beautiful Horses. Her books traditionally feature animals and nature. Jan’s stories range from her own original stories to the retelling of folktales from other countries such as the Ukraine, Finland, and Poland. [4]
When Jan creates a book, she often begins with writing the story first. She says this is the most difficult part for her. When she completes the story, she creates a book “dummy”, or a simple version of the book. She often uses cartoon style drawings to create this version. Jan then plans the space needed for the words and begins a pencil sketch of her illustrations. She uses water colors and paints with small brushes. It takes Jan about an hour to paint one inch of her picture, and about two days to complete a page. Her book, The Mitten, took four months to complete, while The Wild Christmas Reindeer took five months.
Jan Brett is famous for not only her illustrations, but also for the detailed borders on her pages. Within these borders are illustrations that often decorate and enrich the story. When Jan has “too many ideas”, she uses the borders to provide more meaning to the story. In Jan Brett’s story, The Mitten, the borders show the adventures of the young boy Nicki as he treks trough the woods scaring different animals out of their hiding places. Readers may soon notice that the animal Nicki has scared is actually the animal to be featured on the next page of the main story and illustration. Regarding why she creates such detailed borders, Jan states, “There are really two explanations. I have drawn intricate, decorative borders on all of my pictures, since I was very young. So, artistically, that's important to me. Also, when I was young I hated surprise endings in books. I liked to see the story unfold, and have hints of what was going to happen next. I wanted to include border illustrations in my first book, but my editor said, "We don't make PLBs (pretty little books) here." I was a new author, and I took his advice very seriously. But, as I created the dummy of my second book, I included borders that showed what was going to happen next. He saw the dummy of the book and said, "Oh! It's different if you have content in there!" [3]
People and animals are inspiration for her illustrations, but travel is also a constant inspiration. Together with her husband, Joe Hearne, Jan visits many different countries where she researches the architecture and costumes that appear in her work. "From cave paintings to Norwegian sleighs, to Japanese gardens, I study the traditions of the many countries I visit and use them as a starting point for my children's books." [5]
Jan Brett has traveled to do research on animals and places she wants to include in her stories. For her book The Wild Christmas Reindeer, Jan went to University of Maine to study caribou. She further researched ideas for the book on a trip to Norway. They discovered an 80 year old church which gave Jan the idea for the reindeer’s barn. While in Norway, she visited several folk museums to study designs on clothing, clocks, spoons, blankets, and sleighs. She depicts many of the traditional Norwegian designs in her book [6]. “Illustrating children's books always seems like a big adventure because as an artist I must explore and give thought to my subject — an artist needs to know everything about their subject. I try to get a feel for the country and times my characters live in, and I get many ideas from traveling to different countries, where I research the architecture and costumes that appear in my work. After a trip to Norway, I was inspired to write three books! I've found that the details and the odd little things one notices help make a story convincing. In my mind, the story comes alive. And for me, the best part about telling a story is drawing the pictures [2].”
Jan also visited the Monteverdi Cloud Forest in Costa Rica which became the setting of her book The Umbrella. She says of the forest, "The swirling mist and dappled sunshine challenge the visitor. Birds and animals appear and disappear as if seen through a kaleidoscope. The shape and coloring of a creature often mimic the leafy world it lives in. One of the most rewarding sights is the resplendent quetzal with its long tail resembling the trailing vines hanging from its perch." [5]
Jan loves to hear from her readers and fans. You can ask her questions and even send a photograph of yourself which she will put in her art studio. Her address is: Jan Brett 132 Pleasant Street Norwell, MA 02061. [6]
To find out more about Jan Brett, visit her Web site: Meet some of her charming characters, and enjoy all her wonderful online and offline activities.

Books of Interest[edit | edit source]

Hedgie’s Surprise (2000): Each morning the Tomten steals an egg from Henny the chicken’s nest. He then runs away to cook the egg and eat it for breakfast. Although Henny doesn't like the Tomten taking her egg, she doesn't do anything about it. One day a goose swims by with a new brood of goslings, and Henny decides she would like chicks of her own. But, now Henny must figure out how to get Tomten to stop stealing her eggs. With the help of her friend Hedgie, the little hen gets to keep her eggs through a sharp and clever plan that surprises even Henny in the end.
With beautiful watercolors and lovely patterned needlepoint borders, Jan captures the humor and playfulness of the tale as well as the beauty of a Scandinavian farm.
Annie and the Wild Animals (1985): Annie was lonely because Taffy, her golden-haired cat, had disappeared. Life in the woods was lonely and now there was no one to love Annie and be her friend. Annie tried her best to encourage Taffy to return but without success. Annie bakes corncakes in the hopes of luring a new friend. However, a moose, a bear, and even a wildcat are not as soft and cuddlesome or as friendly as Taffy. Where could Taffy be?
Jan Brett's story is mostly told through her wonderfully detailed full-color illustrations. A story within the story forms as the detailed borders provide a subtle foreshadow the return of Taffy to her friend Annie.
Gingerbread Baby (2003): A familiar tale begins in Matti's Kitchen and traipses it way out into the countryside as Matti's mother, his father, the cat, and the dog run after a lively Gingerbread Baby. They are soon joined by a flock of goats, a crowd of villagers, and more. The Gingerbread Baby stays just out of reach, daring them to catch him all along the way! During the chase, however, Matti is not among them – he's at home. Yet, we see him in the borders patting and rolling and putting something into the oven. There is a tasty twist at the end that surprises even the Gingerbread Baby.
Jan Brett's beautiful detailed paintings catch the spirit of a favorite old tale through the mischievous Gingerbread Bay long with the crowd who tries to catch him as they chase through a small Swiss village.
The Mitten (1989): When Nicki drops his white mitten in the snow, he goes on without realizing that it is missing. One by one, woodland animals discover the mitten and crawl in: first a curious mole, then a rabbit, a badger and others, each animal larger than the last. Finally, a big brown bear is followed in by a small brown mouse. As soon as the animals are all snug, disaster happens. As the adventure in the mitten unfolds, the reader can see Nicki in the borders of each page, walking through the woods and scaring animals from their hiding place, unaware of what is going on with his mitten.
Jan’s book has recreated a delightful Ukrainian tale and her intricate illustrations detail many Ukrainian traditions. Each animal’s personality and their expressions are captured in her beautiful paintings.
The Hat (1997): When Lisa's woolen stocking flies off the clothesline, Hedgie finds it and pokes his nose in. He tries to pull his nose out, but the stocking gets stuck on his prickles. A mother hen comes by, followed by a noisy goose, a barn cat, a farm dog, a mama pig and her piglets, and a pony. They all laugh at Hedgie, especially when he pretends he's wearing a new hat. But in the end, it is clever Hedgie who has the last laugh. In the borders, the reader sees Lisa getting ready for winter, until she realizes her stocking is missing. She soon enters the story to look for it.
In Jan’s delightful companion to The Mitten, her beautiful paintings capture a Scandinavian farm and the forest around it
The Umbrella (2004): Carlos walks into the rain forest with his green umbrella, where the only sound is the drip, drip, drip of raindrops falling from the trees. Carlos is sure that he will see lots of animals--perhaps a toucan, a kinkajou, a tapir, maybe a monkey, and hopefully, the exotic quetzal bird. He leaves his umbrella at the foot of a giant fig tree and climbs up for a better look. Perhaps Carlos should have stayed below, where, first a mischievous tree frog hops into the umbrella, followed by one animal after another, each one larger than the last!
The Umbrella is a delightful story with gorgeous paintings of a lush tropical setting. It complements Jan’s popular picture book, The Mitten, set in snowy woods where furry animals crawl into a boy's mitten.
The Wild Christmas Reindeer (1998): This year, Santa asks Teeka to get his reindeer ready to fly on Christmas Eve. She's happy but a little worried, too because she's never worked with the reindeer before. She's not sure they'll want to come in from the tundra, where they run wild and free. Once she finds them, Teeka's strong hand does more harm than good, and soon the reindeer are more wild than they were before she began training them. Teeka needs to find a way to get them to fly Santa’s sleigh. As the days to Christmas come closer for Teeka, we see in the borders the busy elves creating toys and gifts in Santa’s workshop.
Jan’s illustrations truly capture the spirit and magic of Christmas and the Christmas spirit.

Jan Brett is well-known and famous for her beautiful water color illustrations and detailed, intricate borders. The borders of her stories often include a story within a story or a foreshadowing of events to come. Her illustrations truly capture the emotions and essence of the characters and setting around them.

References[edit | edit source]


2 ^ "Jan Brett". PBS Parents. PBS. 2003.


4 Brodie, C. S. Jan Brett: Hedgehogs, Trolls, and a Gingerbread Baby. School Library Media Activities Monthly v. 22 no. 1 (September 2005) p. 50-2


6 Norby, S., et. al., Famous Illustrators of Children's Literature.. 1992. 83 p. 8-11

Brett, Jan. (2000). Hedgie’s Surprise. New York. G. P. Putnam's Sons

Brett, Jan. (1985). Annie and the Wild Animals. New York. Houghton Mifflin Company

Brett, Jan (2003). Gingerbread Baby. New York. G. P. Putnam's Sons

Brett, Jan. (1989). The Mitten A Ukrainian Folktale. New York. G. P. Putnam’s Sons

Brett, Jan. (1997). The Hat. New York. G. P. Putnam's Sons

Brett, Jan. (2004). The Umbrella. New York. G. P. Putnam's Sons

Brett, Jan. (1998). The Wild Christmas Reindeer. New York. G. P. Putnam's Sons